Brenda faces life’s challenges with determined optimism, and her effervescent smile is inspiring.
The child of a service member, she also married into the military. She has lived all over the country, raising a daughter along the way. She worked for years as a nurse, but her physical disabilities prevent her from working on her feet nowadays. A recovering addict, Brenda has been clean and sober since 1990.
After fleeing domestic violence, Brenda found herself in Wisconsin, separated from her daughter in Fort Worth, and in need of surgery. In 2017, she was in line for housing in the Fort Worth area when Hurricane Harvey hit and all housing was diverted for those fleeing the destruction on the coast.
Brenda was able to stay with her daughter for a short time, but her daughter’s lease agreement meant she could not stay permanently. The reality of her situation started to weigh on Brenda, and she sank into a major depression, for which she required hospitalization. When she was released from the hospital, there was nowhere for her to go. She was officially homeless.
The first night she spent on the streets, she stayed awake all night long and kept moving. As she described that night, she had tears in her eyes, “I’ve never been so scared in my life. It was terrifying.”
The medical equipment Brenda uses daily, including oxygen and a CPAP machine, made it difficult for her to find shelter. She ended up in a temporary overflow shelter, where she experienced overcrowding, inadequate resources, and fights among the others staying there. During the day, she tried to stay in the shade, out of the Texas summer heat.
Despite her small Social Security income that would allow her to pay for a regular bed in a shelter, confusion between agencies and program services meant Brenda remained in the overflow shelter for two months. When she finally did receive a regular bed, confusion about whether or not she should be placed into temporary or permanent supportive housing caused her to miss critical housing opportunities. It didn’t help that her identity documents had been stolen.
That’s when other women she’d met on the street told her, “Go to the Flag Building. They will help you.”
That “Flag Building” is where DRC staff has offices, and it has changed everything.
Brenda only expected to get help with her identity documents, but she’s received so much more through the DRC.
First, DRC document specialist Denise helped her replace her identity documents. During this process, Denise spoke with Brenda about housing, and introduced her to DRC case manager Yolanda. Yolanda began monitoring Brenda’s records in the coordinated entry system, helping Brenda to monitor her status within coordinated programs. She also spoke with Brenda about her experiences on the street. Brenda shared that she’s been assaulted numerous times, and the attacks have affected her physically and emotionally. Yolanda introduced Brenda to Lois of the DRC’s Victims Advocacy Project. Brenda began meeting regularly with Lois to work through her trauma and rebuild her self-esteem.
Currently, Brenda is scheduled for back surgery in mid January. While she’s grateful to have surgery that will help alleviate her intense pain, going into the hospital means losing her regular bed at the shelter where she stays. Because she’ll be in rehab after the surgery, shelter rules consider her “housed” during that time and she no longer qualifies for a space. Once again, she’ll find herself released from medical care to the streets.
While she’s in the hospital, her DRC team will continue to search for appropriate housing and services for Brenda. Lois will visit her to continue her counseling.
Brenda hopes to be chosen for a Section 8 “lotto” for which she registered through another agency, but she knows it’s not guaranteed. She anticipates being released from rehabilitation for her back in mid-February, and the lotto takes place on March 1. Those weeks will be critical for Brenda.
While Lois and Yolanda continue to seek opportunities for Brenda, Brenda’s situation highlights the critical need for permanent supportive housing space. People with physical disabilities that prevent them from working may never be able to live independently. There is a desperate need for appropriate housing so that people like Brenda don’t end up forgotten on the streets.
When asked about the DRC, Brenda’s face brightens and tears well up in her eyes. “The people at the DRC truly do what they say they’re going to do. They do the footwork, not just talk. Lois has helped me so much. She’s given me the courage to stand up for myself and helped me know my rights.”
Brenda sums up her feelings about the DRC simply yet poignantly, “God works here.”
To support permanent supportive housing and Housing First in Tarrant County, visit www.DRC-solutions.org/you.