For most of May, Sharoan Garrett and her two young children rode around Dallas on buses or trains by day until a homeless shelter opened at 3 p.m.
When a room came open in June at the Morris Foundation Women and Children’s Center in Fort Worth, Garrett jumped at the chance. She knew the shelter wouldn’t kick her family out during the day and she could take classes that could help them out of homelessness.
This week, Garrett, 42, sat in her new apartment in east Fort Worth, tending to her two kids and planning for the future.
She has started a chapter in her life that Morris officials work to see every day for homeless mothers and their children in Tarrant County. It’s an uphill challenge. The Morris Center, a shelter for homeless mothers and their children overseen by the Presbyterian Night Shelter has been at capacity since it opened in June 2016.
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That means 40 mothers and more than 160 children are at the center in the 2300 block of Poplar Street on any given day. Since 2000, they have been the fastest-growing segment of the Fort Worth homeless population, Presbyterian Night Shelter statistics show.
In Tarrant County, more than 113,000 children, or 22 percent of the kids, lived in poverty in 2014, according to an assessment by North Texas Community Foundation. Statewide, the number is 25 percent.
“We have seen the effects of generational poverty and systemic racism play a part in women and children being put on the streets, “ said Jay Semple, program manager at Street Outreach Services in Fort Worth, a Catholic Charities Fort Worth program for the homeless. “Women can’t work if they don’t have child care. Child care is not always an option. Women are fearful of losing their children, so they always don’t feel safe to reach out to agencies for help.”
Of Tarrant County’s 2.2 million residents, just over 1,900 people are homeless. In Texas, an estimated 23,122 people were homeless in 2016 on any given night, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nationwide, more than 578,000 people are homeless on any given night, according HUD statistics.
Poverty, domestic violence, a decline in public assistance, lack of affordable health care, mental illness and addictive disorders all contribute.
While circumstances vary, one of the main reasons for homelessness in Tarrant County is lack of affordable housing, say officials with agencies that help the homeless.
‘A domino effect,’
Garrett, born and raised in Galveston, became one of the homeless in 2014, when she lost her car, job, day care and housing.
“It was like a domino effect,” she said.
Garrett’s mother was not around to raise her. That job fell to her grandmother. Garrett was 14 when her grandmother died. She said her life went crazy and she skirted all her responsibilities.
“I went wild after that,” Garrett said, but she didn’t elaborate. “I couldn’t take everything that was happening.”
Garrett moved to Temple, had a child and relocated to Arlington in 2013.
“My cousin said she had a place for us, so we moved there, but it got to be too crowded, and we went to a shelter in Fort Worth,” Garrett said. That was 2014, and for the next several years, Garrett and her children were in and out of shelters.
“You want to take care of your kids,” Garrett said. “You make sure they are OK and that they are not suffering for your decisions or mistakes.”
Generally, homeless mothers and their children are the poorest of the poor, and overcoming the many obstacles of homelessness takes significant work and support, officials said.
“For single mothers with children, this task is much more difficult because of the reality of caring for children,” Presbyterian Night Shelter CEO Toby Owen said in an email.
“Maintaining a job that provides enough income for the entire family to have affordable housing, child care, address school needs, adequate healthcare and unknown financial situations is very difficult when you are parenting alone. Hundreds and hundreds of single moms overcome this challenge each and every year, and it is because of their hard work and support from so many that make this possible.”
By 2017, Garrett had three children, all younger than 5. Her oldest daughter went to live in Temple with her father, who helps Garrett financially from time to time. She cares for Xavier, 3, and Sy’ria, 18 months.
She arrived this summer at the Morris Center, which has a successful track record in the short time it has been open. In 10 months, the center has moved 103 families and 230 children from homelessness to housing. In addition, the length of stay has decreased from 101 days to 75.
The center is for mothers 18 and older and their children 18 and younger.
“Families are being connected with providers such as Cook Children’s [Medical Center in Fort Worth], The Women’s Center and Early Childhood intervention during their stay,” Debbi Rabalais, vice president of program services at Presbyterian Night Shelter, said in an email. “They continue these services once they exit, which improves the lives of the children that we serve.”
Dignity and hope
Owen of the Presbyterian Night Shelter said the staff tries to move families to housing as quickly as possible.
“The new building has allowed us to serve more homeless families in a manner that directly speaks dignity, hope and safety to each family that enters our doors,” Owen said.
The Morris Center isn’t alone. In Tarrant County, groups such as the JPS Care Connections team, MHMR PATH, Catholic Charities SOS, Hands of Hope, Fort Worth police and Arlington police continue working together to meet the needs of mothers and children in unsheltered homelessness.
Mike Doyle, president and CEO of Cornerstone Assistance Network in Fort Worth, said the challenge will be for a community relationship year-round with the homeless and those in poverty. Cornerstone was established in 1992 to help those in poverty.
“Twenty-five years ago, groups would help at Thanksgiving or give Christmas gifts and that was it,” Doyle said. “We’re facing federal and state cuts, thus throwing it back on communities. I’ve seen more and more groups helping all through the year and that help must continue.”
Garrett hopes to find a job once she completes culinary training starting in January. She’s waiting for furniture for her new apartment in east Fort Worth.
The Morris Center “saved my life,” Garrett said. “At times, I’ve felt like a failure, but it’s not how you got knocked down but how you get up. I’m just trying to get it back together.”
Helping the homeless
Homeless Helpline with the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition: 817-996-8800
Source: Street Outreach Services in Fort Worth