Local Spotlight: Preventing Homelessness in Tarrant County, Texas
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This week, we’re featuring Michelle Rundles and Kamisha Bailey, Case Managers at Tarrant County Community Development in Tarrant County, Texas, who are dedicated to homelessness prevention. In the first quarter of 2021, approximately 3,629 people experienced homelessness (people living on the street or in shelters) in the Tarrant County area Continuum of Care.1 With the help of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Michelle and Kamisha spend their days supporting and advocating for those in their community.
For both Michelle Rundles and Kamisha Bailey, working with vulnerable populations isn’t just a job, it’s a calling. Michelle and Kamisha each came to Tarrant County Community Development with backgrounds in social work and a passion for helping others. Both women found themselves in the same office, managing different areas but working toward the common goal of gaining and sustaining housing for those in need.
Michelle is a Case Manager with the Homelessness Prevention program. She works with families on the cusp of becoming homeless and makes sure they’re able to sustain and resume their rent payments after their three months of assistance. She explained, “My clients are with me for a very short period of time. I try to make the biggest impact while they are with me so that they won’t return to the program. That is the goal!”
Kamisha is a Case Manager for the Rapid Rehousing program. She assists families who are currently experiencing homelessness. Providing support for up to two years, she coordinates all of the moving pieces required to help families experiencing homelessness to find housing and stay in it. Kamisha has managed some of Tarrant County’s trickiest rehousing cases over the years, including helping many women navigate domestic violence situations. She is constantly busy assessing new families for the Rapid Rehousing program, coordinating with shelters, and conducting home visits for her clients.
We make a big impact in this small office and I don’t think we realize how many lives we touch in a year.”
- Michelle Rundles, Tarrant County Community Development
Michelle and Kamisha use their backgrounds in social work and many other skills to work together, always going above and beyond for their clients. “We’ve had several instances where we had to tag team,” Michelle noted as she shared about the value of brainstorming creative solutions to help families get back on track. Given their individual caseloads, this collaboration is critical. At any given time, Kamisha is serving up to 30 families. At the height of the pandemic, Michelle was helping 35 clients at a time. “We make a big impact in this small office and I don’t think we realize how many lives we touch in a year,” Michelle mentioned as she reflected on their work together.
Navigating Dual Crises
The last year and a half was particularly difficult, especially in Tarrant County, which was hit hard by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the destructive February 2021 Texas winter storm. “It was as if the world had closed, and the people we served had no idea what to do,” Kamisha explained. During the winter storm, families were living without water or proper roofs over their heads. One family, Kamisha mentioned, had “put a BBQ inside the house to keep warm.” But the greatest challenge for people during both crises was getting help, which Michelle and Kamisha worked around the clock to provide.
Since many offices were closed, people in their community and in surrounding counties had trouble finding the right resources or even a person to pick up the phone to provide help. Michelle and Kamisha mentioned both families and landlords required additional assistance to navigate their landlord-tenant situations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium forms.
“Being that we are considered essential, we were encountering people calling because we were the only agency where people could actually receive a live voice,” Michelle said. ”People were hurting and they just wanted someone to talk to.” Michelle and Kamisha made it a point to pick up the phone and to call people back who left voicemails, even those outside of Tarrant County. They spent significant time fielding questions, educating people on resources, and advocating for those in need. It was clear to Michelle and Kamisha that they were needed now more than ever. “It opened my eyes to how much coordination still needs to be done for Tarrant County residents to know where to go,” Michelle commented.
Although Tarrant County is recovering from both crises, Michelle and Kamisha anticipate there are more hard times ahead. “We know we’re going to see more domestic violence, more homelessness. I think we know what that’s going to look like because we can feel it when we talk to people, but unless you’re involved in this process, you might think everyone is okay,” Michelle said.
Continuing to Pick Up the Call
When asked what keeps them motivated during these overwhelming times, both women shared similar answers: to make sure the families they serve have what they need to move forward in their lives because they know they could be in the same situation too. “I know that if this person is in need, I could very well be in need,” Michelle shared. “No person is alone in this world. They may feel like they are alone but we cannot be so disconnected as to not understand that someone may need us at any point in time.”
Sometimes, someone just needs you to hear their story.”
- Kamisha Bailey, Tarrant County Community Development
Michelle and Kamisha will continue to pick up the phone and be the supportive voice on the other end of the line. As Kamisha shared, “Sometimes, someone just needs you to hear their story.”
Thanks to Engaging Local Government Leaders for connecting us to Michelle, Kamisha, and the Tarrant County Community Development team. Look for more features on local public servants in the coming months, and read more stories on the Performance.gov blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn!