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Texas church fights homelessness with permanent supportive housing

Quail Trail is a $4.8 million housing complex built with the assistance of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth, Texas, to tackle homelessness in their community. (Photo courtesy of New Leaf Community Services)

(PNS)— A $4.8 million housing complex is the latest effort by First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth, Texas, to tackle homelessness in the community.

The newly developed Quail Trail apartments, just north of downtown Fort Worth, is permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people and was built with the help of a $1 million gift from First Presbyterian Church that spurred generosity from others in the area.

“We received generous grants from four major foundations in town,” said Steve Christian, chairman of New Leaf Community Services, a nonprofit that was formed to execute the project.

Philanthropist and New Leaf board member Flora Brewer “also gave us a large donation,” he continued. “The city granted us a forgivable loan, $1.7 million,” toward the project. So “we started something brand new, and within two years, we had raised the funds to begin construction and hope to have all tenants in by February 2022.”

The church is interested in homelessness because “it’s an issue of justice, and it’s definitely an issue of human dignity,” said the Rev. Dr. Robyn Byrd Michalove, associate pastor of mission and family ministry at First Presbyterian Church. When you have all the things that stability and housing provide, “it can lead to greater success in other areas of life.”

The new development, which will have a total of 12 fourplexes when completed, already has begun welcoming tenants and will include case management to help them overcome obstacles. “Most of the Quail Trail residents have been homeless for years,” Christian said.

They’re showing their gratitude in various ways. For example, “some of the tenants have volunteered to help with things like janitorial services in the community building and lawn care and that kind of thing,” Christian said. This helps give people “a sense of purpose and giving back.”

Quail Trail is just one of the ways that First Presbyterian Church is living out its mission as a Matthew 25 church and as a Hunger Action Congregation of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

For years, there’s been an “institutional proclivity to say, ‘Look, we are a part of this community, and we want to be a part of the solutions (to Fort Worth’s struggles),’” Michalove said.

First Presbyterian’s mission work has included founding a night (homeless) shelter in the 1980s that was recently renovated and has blossomed into a place that provides comprehensive services. The church also has a food pantry and has provided unique experiences for children to learn what it’s like to live on a budget.

Other endeavors include hosting a new worshipping community (Worship on Wednesdays), participating in Habitat for Humanity, operating a community outreach center and holding an annual event called Homeless Connect to provide one-stop services, such as haircuts and health checks.

Quail Trail “was sort of the next piece of the puzzle to say, ‘OK, what can we do to actually end homelessness,’” Michalove said. “We can provide services for those that are homeless, but what’s another tangible step? And this sort of collaborative dream came together.”

Christian, who has participated in other major outreach efforts by the church, explained the need for such endeavors this way: “We have to care for one another. Whether we like it or not, we are our brother’s keeper.”

Andrew Kang Bartlett, national associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, is impressed by their work.

“It’s so inspiring to see a church dig in on challenges facing their community,” Kang Bartlett said. “FPC knows they are imbedded in the city and the world, and just as Jesus did, they are getting their hands dirty grappling with systemic problems. I am eager to see what comes next for this community of believers!”

Several tenants already have moved into the development, which is intended to give them a place to feel proud, safe and welcome.

First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth is a Hunger Action Congregation that offers several programs and community services, including the Choice Pantry. (Photo by Richard Massey, First Presbyterian Church).

“A lot of our residents are older, with multiple health issues,” Christian said. “As a result, permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people can become assisted living for the homeless because a lot of them are not able to become employed again, but they still need to be safe and healthy for as long as they can live. … We recognize that, and that’s something that we want to support.”

Vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will make the project self-sustaining, he said.

“We shouldn’t need additional funds once we get all of our rental vouchers in place,” he said. “The income stream from those rental vouchers will cover all case management, all maintenance and operation of the facility” as well as some other services, such as a part-time mental health professional and volunteer coordinator.

In order to reside at Quail Trail, tenants with income will “pay a third of whatever income they have,” Christian said. “If they don’t have any income, then they don’t pay anything.”

Looking to the future, New Leaf has another project on the horizon. “We’re already looking at sites for the next one,” Christian said. “The church has committed another $250,000 per year to help us with the next site,” and various groups have expressed interest in supporting the effort.

Collaboration is important, Michalove explained, using an African proverb. “If you want to go far, go together.”

by Darla Carter, Presbyterian News Service