The homeless aren’t all on Lancaster

It’s a frequent refrain from business leaders and many residents of Fort Worth’s east side, and it’s not as heartless as it might sound initially.

It’s a simple refrain: Stop putting all of the city’s facilities and services for homeless people on East Lancaster Avenue. There must be better ways.

The area is home to the Union Gospel Mission, the Presbyterian Night Shelter, the Salvation Army, services provided by MHMR of Tarrant County, the Day Resource Center for the Homeless and Unity Park, where homeless people gather.

“It has created an economic dead zone,” Doug Henderson, president of the East Fort Worth Business Association, told Star-Telegram reporter Caty Hirst last month. “Property values are either stagnant or decreasing around here, and it has just been an eyesore and a burden on the east side.”

The oft-heard answer to that complaint is self-fulfilling: The homeless shelters and services are on Lancaster because that’s where the homeless people are.

“This location is where all of the providers are located, and it has been that way for a very long time,” Presbyterian Night Shelter executive director Toby Owen told Hirst. “This is where the homeless community goes to receive assistance.”

What if that weren’t always the case?

In fact, one of the primary East Lancaster Avenue service providers, the Day Resource Center, has launched major new efforts to make sure it’s not.

The center’s leaders and board members are so serious about these efforts that they’ve changed their organization’s name. It’s now simply called DRC.

The services offered at its 1415 E. Lancaster Ave. location will remain. It opened in 1999 as a place where people who spend the night in homeless shelters can go during the day to have access to showers, laundry, restrooms, mail service — and to get off the street.

The center served more than 3,000 individuals last year. While they’re there, the DRC staff and caseworkers conduct needs assessments, help with access to crucial documents, aid in navigating the social services network and more.

But there are homeless people throughout Tarrant County, says DRC executive director Bruce Frankel. They should not all have to come to Lancaster to get the services they need.

“On any given day, two-thirds of the homeless are not on East Lancaster,” Frankel told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board this past week. “Nobody on East Lancaster is from there.”

DRC intends to make sure its services are not tied to a building. It has formed ties — and wants to form more — with churches and other organizations across the county to find the homeless wherever they are and take services to them.

Part of the effort works in the opposite direction: Get people out of the Lancaster area into housing in other parts of the county and give them the kind of support they need to turn their lives around.

DRC has adopted a model recognized by the National Alliance to End Homelessness called “rapid rehousing.”

It places priority on moving homeless individuals or families into permanent housing quickly, ideally within 30 days of becoming homeless.

Whatever the cause of their homelessness — typically it’s short-term financial crisis, domestic violence, substance abuse or mental health issues — many can regain stability when they are placed in housing and assisted for four to six months. Some move much faster.

Studies where the rapid rehousing concept has been used, as reported by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, showed a 75 percent success rate, much higher than the 16 percent of people from emergency shelters.

The average cost per successful client was $4,100 for those in rapid rehousing, compared to $10,000 for those in shelters.

Crucial elements include assistance in finding housing, rent and move-in assistance and professional caseworker help in meeting unique needs.

None of that has to be provided in a building on Lancaster.

It does take concerted effort by people who know what they are doing, who both respect the clients they are working with and can meet their needs.

The Day Resource Center showed itself capable of carrying out its mission for 16 years.

There’s every reason to have confidence that the newly renamed DRC will be able to perform its expanded mission.