A Social Worker’s Holiday Wish
2020 has been hard on everyone, there’s no denying that. However, one of the silver linings of this year has been witnessing the generosity of people throughout the Fort Worth community. The pandemic has inspired a lot of people to help those who are hurting. It’s wonderful to see how our community has embraced the spirit of giving in these troubled times.
If you have driven underneath I-30 and I-35 where they cross over Lancaster Avenue near downtown Fort Worth, you know there is human suffering in our community. The East Lancaster corridor between I-35 and Beach Street is home to several homeless shelters, and it is a hub for the homeless. The reasons for their suffering are numerous, and each person’s journey is unique to them.
I have been a community advocate and social work for 15 years. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in all that time is that food scarcity is not a significant issue for those surviving homelessness in the East Lancaster corridor. Homelessness does not always equal hungry.
If food scarcity isn’t an issue, what are some of the significant obstacles for those who are surviving homelessness? Take a minute to indulge in a little imagination exercise with me. Imagine being homeless for five years – you’ve lost everything you owned except what you can wear and carry with you every day. You receive the news that you have been approved for housing. You now have a roof over your head, but what about a bed? A table? Cookware and dishes and silverware? Bedding and towels? As a board member for Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC), I hear about the needs for housing and wrap-around social services, while what we really need are welcome baskets for newly housed individuals and families. We need shelters that are able to offer more support than just food to the hundreds that they serve.
As we enter the holiday season and reflect upon our blessings, please think about the needs for those who are homeless. If you want to help, connect with an established agency that does work in this arena. They know the needs of the homeless population of our city and are equipped to help. Please do not street feed our most vulnerable citizens. I know this giving comes from a loving heart and desire to help your neighbor, and it can feel painful to have much while so many do not have the basics. There are many religious and moral reasons for giving out food on the street, but I ask you to consider other ways to serve.
Please know that trained professionals are working diligently to provide and protect those experiencing homelessness. This includes street outreach teams for those living outside the shelters. There are many reasons not to street feed, especially during the COVID pandemic. One of the biggest problems is the trash this generates along the East Lancaster corridor. The Presbyterian Night Shelter’s Clean Slate group, as well as the City of Fort Worth, does a great job of cleaning up, but it’s a constant problem.
Another problems is that while most people are trustworthy and would never harm anyone, there are people with bad intentions who hurt those surviving homelessness with bad food and unmentionable practices. I’ve seen some horrible things working with the homeless population of Fort Worth. People “donate” donuts with razor blades in them, frozen pizzas with no way to cook them, not to mention foods contaminated with various body fluids. When you are desperate and at the mercy of others, you don’t always check the safety of the food you receive.
Lauren King, interim executive director of TCHC, has said that the support that the Homeless Coalition and their partners receive from Fort Worthians “is incredible” and that they could not do their work “without people who care.” The Tarrant County Homeless Commission’s mission is working toward a vision of a vibrant community “where everyone has a place to call home.”
My request to you this holiday season is simple. Please get involved. Give in a meaningful way to established organizations that work to support the homeless population of Fort Worth. Make a difference in our neighbors’ lives because these people are our neighbors. The organizations working to overcome homelessness will put your time and resources to work to help those most in need. Homelessness is a community issue, and we can solve it only with everyone’s help.
Christie Eckler has worked in the nonprofit sector as a program and development leader in various roles working with some of the most vulnerable populations and causes. She enjoys volunteering to help with various community initiatives and serving on committees and boards. She received her master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in Community and Administrative Practice from University of Texas at Arlington and is a proud wife and mom to two grown and fabulous daughters.
Thank you Christie for such a timely and instructive message….it is indeed hard to drive by those asking for help, but your suggestions remind us why the best option is to support the organizations that most effectively support the homeless population.