Fort Worth city leaders have approved a proposal to turn unused hotel space into permanent supportive housing for those facing chronic homelessness and most vulnerable to COVID-19.
The plan, which was approved unanimously, was amended during a work session hours beforehand. Originally proposing to use $18.6 million from CARES Act funding, it would have established 200 units.
The newly approved proposal is half of that, with 100 units and requiring $9.3 million. During the work session, city council leaders agreed housing units were needed. However, there were questions over how much support small businesses were getting from federal aid.
“We have so many small businesses that are hurting. We have businesses that opened, was starting to get back on their feet and then had to close again and have remained closed,” Councilmember Kelly Allen Gray said. “I would like to be able to address those businesses as well.”
According to Fort Worth assistant city manager Fernando Costa, there are an estimated 1,800 people in the city of Fort Worth experiencing homelessness. About a third of them are considered to be living with ‘chronic homelessness’ .
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development defines chronic homelessness as people who have been homeless for at least a year or repeatedly while experiencing a disabling condition including physical disability, serious mental illness and/or substance use disorder making it difficult to find and maintain housing.
“That was the case even before COVID-19. Now with COVID-19, we find that roughly 200 of these 600 chronically homeless are highly vulnerable to the disease,” Costa said. “It’s particularly important from a public health standpoint that we protect COVID vulnerable homeless persons and we want to take advantage of the federal funding that the U.S. Congress has made available for the homeless individuals.”
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While the proposal does not eliminate homelessness completely, Costa said he believed it was an opportunity to address a ‘substantial portion’ of it. Unlike emergency shelters, Costa said this would aim for long-term support.
This would include case managers for every tenant to help with jobs and earning income, Costa said.
“This would be a real home, a place where they can establish a permanent address. They would be safe, they would be living in a healthful environment,” he said. “With those supportive services, they would be able to live more or less on their own.”
Fort Worth city mayor Betsy Price released the following statement following the vote Tuesday night:
“Today’s unanimous vote to allocate an adjusted amount of CARES dollars toward Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) was the right move, as increasing PSH throughout Fort Worth has been a goal of this Council. Fort Worth is committed to spending federal funding in a way that supports all aspects of our population who need assistance right now. That includes focusing on continued efforts to equitably provide small business support, rental and utility assistance and other community programs throughout all of Fort Worth.”