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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Flex Fund Helps Fill The Gap Between Services For Dallas' Homeless

Homeless people in North Texas face a mountain of obstacles on the path to financial stability and often the largest setback comes from a small expense — think steel-toed boots for a factory job or an application fee for an apartment. About four years ago, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance created a fund aimed at helping low-income families meet these needs. 

David Gruber is with the nonprofit, and he joins KERA's Justin Martin for a look into how the fund has has helped some North Texans get back on their feet.

Interview Highlights:

On how the Flex Fund has helped:

I went back and looked at the numbers, and we've solved 1,400 of these problems since the creation of the Flex Fund. I just keep coming upon more and more examples. I mean some of them are really simple. You and I, if we rent an apartment there's probably going to be some kind of rental deposit fee or whatever. If we don't have great credit, maybe there'll be a risk fee.

One that I really like and remember happened about four years ago — it was one of the first problems that we solved for someone. She [the client] was unsheltered, and her case manager found her an apartment and and got her a voucher and she was ready to move then. The apartment complex was pet friendly but they said you know what, we do have policy where we need a pet deposit and it's gonna be $45.

Essentially the only thing this woman had in life was her dog. If you put it to her and said, "Okay listen, this program doesn't have a line-item for pet deposit fees. So here's the choice either you can go into housing, and leave your dog or you can stay under the bridge." For her it was simple, "I'm staying under the bridge," and if you've got a pet you understand that.

So, again what we were able to do was say we can house somebody for $45, that's pretty incredible. So we wrote the check to the apartment complex, and the woman was housed.

On how the program is supported:

Through private foundations and the United Way, because part of the reason that we need this type of program is because typically the government doesn't fund these small things.

Now government, federal, state, city — you know they're different levels — they'll fund the big things. They'll fund the shelters, they'll fund the housing vouchers, but they don't have line items for these little things.

On what most people miss about being homeless:

The main thing that some people miss is that there's very little difference between you and a person who is homeless. When I say a person who is homeless, most people picture the person who's on the DART platform and I'm gonna say that deep down even that person is not that different from you and me.

Most of the homeless people in Dallas you would not be able to pick them out of a lineup and say they're homeless.

There's really not a huge difference between the homeless folks and you and me, it's just they don't have a home or they have less money than you. Essentially you're a little luckier, you were dealt a slightly better hand in life, and I think if we could establish that understanding we could end homelessness a lot sooner.

People have a lot of misconceptions, and they make a lot of assumptions. What they really need to understand is these are people just like you and me, and guess what happens once they're housed? They're not homeless anymore.

The interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

David Gruber is the director of Development and Communications for the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.