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Converted Fort Worth hotel provides hope and a model to end chronic homelessness

City officials believe they're close to ending chronic homelessness and have plans to create a second version of Casa De Esperanza.

FORT WORTH, Texas — “We are in my home,” Laura Lyday says with a smile. “My little bungalow is what I call it.”

Lyday’s "bungalow" is a small studio-style room in a converted hotel. She was homeless off and on for 11 years, often sleeping in a tent, and it’s only when she reflects on those nights that the smile fades and tears arrive.

“It’s hard not know where you’re going to sleep,” she said. “It’s hard not knowing how you’re going to eat every day.”

Lyday is at Casa De Esperanza, which is providing a home and hope to 119 chronically homeless people in Fort Worth.

“There is still a high level of poverty within our community and a lack of resources,” said Lanesha Davis, the vice president of housing operations for Fort Worth Housing Solutions.

Fort Worth Housing Solutions, the city’s housing authority, used federal CARES Act funds in 2020 to help set up the facility in just 90 days.

“This is the first time this has occurred in our area and I think almost even nationwide,” Davis said.

Davis believes what makes it unique is the variety of services from job training to mental health providers all coming to the facility instead of asking clients to come to them.

“It is important for persons who may be work campers or have lived in shelters for an extremely long period of time to be congregated together with those wraparound services because they regain their sense of community,” she said. “Although it was a massive undertaking, it has been hugely successful.”

A year later, 95% of those who moved in when it opened in 2020 are still there continuing to rebuild their lives, beginning careers or education.

“I lost my way for long time,” Lyday said. “I lost my way.”

For more than a decade, Lyday didn’t spend time with her children or grandchildren for the holidays.

“Being out there, I wasn’t able to see them,” she said. “I wasn’t able to be with the them and do things with them.”

But this year, they were able to be together. She hosted.

Cooking is her passion, and Lyday now has a job grilling at Whataburger. She has also begun a path towards culinary school at Tarrant County Community College through the school’s Visions unlimited program, which is specifically for the homeless community.

“It’s hard to start school when you’re out there and you don’t have a phone and you don’t have an internet connection and you don’t have the things that you need to be in school,” Lyday said.

Fort Worth Housing Solutions wants to fund a similar facility to help more of the county’s nearly 1,200 homeless and 400 unsheltered residents.

In recent months, city council leaders have discussed spending $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to build a similar facility with 125 additional permanent supportive housing units.

City officials say with an additional $5 million they could fund 162 units instead of 125 and effectively end chronic homelessness in the city, but there has not been a final decision on plan.

“Without that social safety net, you also could fall through the cracks and find yourself in need of help and assistance,” Davis said. “I think the biggest misconception is that persons who are homeless want to be homeless and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Like many of those who live at Casa De Esperanza, Lyday’s new hope has led to dreams. She wants to one day own her own restaurant and write a book she plans to title: "Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover."

“I’ve been out on the streets for so long and to be in my own home, it’s awesome,” she said.

Sitting on the bed in her living room, Lyday is surrounded by photos of family and a vision board of what she hopes the future holds.

“We don’t have to be stuck here,” she said. “God has a plan for all of us.”

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