The Shortest Way Home
by Otis Thornton
Homelessness Program Director, City of Fort Worth
On Sunday, June 8, 1997, a Fort Worth Star Telegram headline read, “No Direction Home.” The feature story chronicled a reporter’s week-long experience of life on the streets of Fort Worth and concluded: “The pavement feels harder when no direction you walk will take you home.”
Public response to this graphic depiction of misery in the shadow of downtown’s renaissance was pronounced. Within a year, the Fort Worth Day Resource Center for the Homeless was incorporated to add daytime refuge from the elements, laundry and restrooms to the services offered by the overflowing shelters clustered on the southeast side of downtown: Union Gospel Mission, Presbyterian Night Shelter and the Salvation Army. Transitional and permanent supportive housing programs developed and expanded across Tarrant County.
The results of our efforts to provide housing, services and opportunities for the homeless over the past 16 years must be judged a mixed success. On one hand, it is clear that thousands of people seeking shelter, assistance and second chances have benefitted from the hard work and generosity of our community. Faith-based, private and even government-led efforts to address the needs of homeless people continue to form the bedrock of an effective, if overloaded, system of care for homeless people who have comparatively few barriers to housing and independence.
On the other hand, it is clear that our unfinished work to develop and target sufficient resources to house disabled, long-term homeless people continues to cost our community dearly in economic, social and human terms. Managing chronic homelessness is an expensive, failed approach that writes off neighborhoods and challenges our civic pride and moral sensibilities. The Directions Home plan, launched in 2008, forged a community-wide commitment to end chronic homelessness and make other forms of homelessness rare, short-term and non-recurring.
The plan is not a cookie-cutter approach: it is tailored to Fort Worth realities and acknowledges that “directions home” are as diverse as the individuals who live here. Our plan is bold: it calls for civic leadership, community action and personal responsibility. And it’s working: the best practices that make up the Directions Home approach (like Housing First and Supportive Housing) have already helped more than 1,200 people move into affordable, accessible, permanent housing. But there’s more work to be done – and that’s where you come in.
I encourage you to find out about The Shortest Way Home, a 12-month community engagement campaign that challenges residents to get involved in our on-going efforts to end homelessness in greater Fort Worth. You can get involved in several ways, from making a donation to volunteering your time. By working together, we can make sure that all of our neighbors can find the shortest way home.