|Jean Robb and Amanda (Missi) Cowart, M.A.|
Fort Worth Outreach Service Works To Help Homeless
Every day, thousands of people in Fort Worth drive past people's homes and don't even realize it. But if you peer through the trees and under overpasses, you'll find bright-colored tents staring back.
One tent is the home of Michael Curley and Brenda Goss. They have lived in the foliage covered area for two years. "It's a regular tent… it's just got a lot of sleeping bags, tarp. It's quilted on the inside. Keeps the wind out," Curley said of the domicile.
The couple has lived in various homeless camps for 10 years. Now, they're waiting on the City of Fort Worth to help them into permanent housing. "We've been ready to get out of here," said Curley.
Curley and his wife were a lot more open than the rest of the unsheltered homeless population in Fort Worth. Some have warrants; others fell through the cracks with mental issues.
"This is the invisible population. This is it," explained Don Jones with Street Outreach Services (S.O.S.). Catholic Charities started the S.O.S. Program two weeks ago, to help service the needs of the unsheltered homeless in Fort Worth.
"If they need hygiene or whatever, we can provide them with that," said Jones.
No one knows better than Jones how to spot the trail to a homeless camp. "What we generally look for is signs of inhabitations like candy wrappers, water bottles, any kind of debris. As you can see there's litter right there," he said pointing. "That shows this has been inhabited before. You got [news]paper and things used for various hygiene situations."
Jones was homeless for 35 years and says Catholic Charities pulled him out of his situation eight months ago. Now he's trying to do the same for others. "I've been in and out of prison for over half of my life with the drugs and the violence and the gangs and everything. I was given a chance to turn my life around." In the two weeks the program has been operating, Jones has been traveling through Fort Worth homeless camps and has been recognized by many of his former neighbors. "They know me. A lot of them are glad I made the transition. I wanted to get the opportunity to go in and share some of the happiness that's been given to me. Maybe they can get some of it, too," he said optimistically.
Father Luke Robertson is with Catholic Charities. He says S.O.S. hopes to gain the trust of the homeless in the camps and transition them slowly into housing. The S.O.S. program is working in coalition with the City of Fort Worth's plan to eradicate homelessness.
This is a way to reach out to the people who aren't a part of any social service program, like the homeless.
Father Luke praises Jones for what he is doing. "Don is just someone that's walked the walk. He knows there's a particular set of customs and protocols and language out there that we don't know and don knows. We could not do what we do without him."
So far, the response by some in the homeless camps has been positive. The S.O.S. team has already paid a visit to Curley and his wife. "We talked to them yesterday. They our friends," he said.
The 2009 Census found there are more than 2,000 homeless in Fort Worth. Of those, some 200 are unsheltered. While S.O.S. is determined to reach out to those in homeless camps, the team will respect the wishes of those who never want to leave their tents.
Otis Thornton, the homeless czar for the City of Fort Worth, says homelessness has been reduced by 19-percent since 2007.
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