• Lancaster Lofts – Open Studios for Creative People
  • Exterior – Front
  • Gorgeous northern exposure
  • Sleeping area
  • Loft Kitchen
  • Spacious bathroom
  • Loft interior
  • Open Studios for Creative People
  • Gated Access
  • Exterior – Rear

My Story – cont.

Posted by Flora Alexandra No Commented Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Right around the time I started working on East Lancaster, Don Shisler started working as the new Executive Director of the Union Gospel Mission, with offices right across the street from RBI.  Next door to RBI, the UGM owned the 4 story warehouse that was to become Lancaster Lofts.  In 1995, most of the windows, especially on the west side of the building, were destroyed by the infamous Mayfest hail storm.  In those days, UGM was a very different organization – overwhelmed by deteriorating infrastructure and an increasing population of homeless people and struggling to put funding together.  They were completely unable to repair the damage to the building which they used as a warehouse for donations and a distribution point for used clothing.  I used to think of the warehouse as the “Beirut” building because it looked like a bomb had hit it.

My father and I were discussing the neighborhood one day and he suggested that we talk with the mission about donating them some funds to repair the windows.  This was the first time I had ever thought about targeted, purposeful donations in this way – a donation that would help the charitable organization while benefiting the community around it.  We had lunch with Don and ended up making a donation of $10,000.  But the most important thing that happened was the beginning of a good friendship.

Around the same time, the City of Fort Worth began holding some public meetings to update their planning for the area.  I attended every one.  This was also the time that the initial planning for the demolition and rebuilding of the I-35/I-30 mix-master was in process.  I went to graduate school with lots of hopeful city managers and so these discussions were fascinating to me.  Generally they were poorly attended by the community and it wasn’t difficult to get to ask a question or make a comment.  But mostly I kept my head down and learned a lot of history.  The neighborhood planning meetings were generally characterized by property and business owners complaining about “what the city had done to them” by relocating all the homeless shelters into a once vibrant mixed residential and commercial corridor.  The meetings about the I-35/I-30 relocation were marked by the view that the world ended at I-35 and nothing really existed east of it – at least nothing of any worth.  Traffic speeds could be higher – there was nothing to stop for.

As a result of these meetings, I started finding some folks like Don who were not just interested in complaining but were interested in talking about what could be done.  This included Bob Gallant, second generation owner of Eastside Marble and Granite, and Sarah Adams, owner of Letterpress Graphics, who became interested in the neighborhood as a possible future home for her business.  We started to meet regularly and ask various city representatives to join us to discuss our concerns.  We talked to police, code, neighborhood personnel and finally met Fernando Costa, then the Planning Director for the city of Fort Worth.  Fernando encouraged us to form a neighborhood association and provided consulting support to help us set goals and define strategies to address them.

And so the Near East Side Neighborhood Association was born in 2001.  We focused our goals on making the neighborhood cleaner, safer and more positive for everyone who lived and worked there.  We set as a ground rule that no one was trying to force the homeless shelters out of the area.  We were all trying to work together for the good of business owners, property owners, shelter directors and residents.  We were about encouraging people to be responsible for taking care of their property and making it easier for them to do so.  We often had more city staff at our meetings than association members.  We developed and implemented many new strategies that involved partnerships among the agencies and business owners.  (See our “list of accomplishments”.)  We all worked on cutting our weeds, picking up trash, locating absentee owners, fixing up our facades, and making vacant properties safer.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that there was only so much you could do to improve something that you didn’t control.  When I first started to work at RBI, it was as bad any of the other property owners – they didn’t cut their weeds until they got a warning from city code compliance.  We could take care of our own property and contribute funds to clean up common property, but that only went so far in an area with such an overabundance of vacant and deteriorated properties.  So I decided to put more skin in the game and bought 1324 E. Lancaster from the Union Gospel Mission in 2002.  We opened Lancaster Lofts in 2004.

As time went on, I acquired other vacant properties with the idea that the Near East Side didn’t need more organizations providing services to the homeless – it needed to strengthen the organizations that were already there, develop sustainable businesses in the vacant property and more funding to move people out of homelessness.

Now I need to start talking about the education I have gotten in homelessness over the last 15 years of working on East Lancaster and serving as board member and volunteer to organizations such as the YWCA and Day Resource Center.  Homelessness is a lack of housing, yes, but there are as many reasons why someone has no housing as there are homeless people.  Poverty is foremost among them.  If folks on E. Lancaster had resources, they would not be there.  They would be seeking treatment in psychiatric hospitals or rehabilitation centers.  They would be living in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.  They would be in group homes with other persons with comparable physical and mental disabilities.  They would be escaping abusive relationships by moving to another city.   If they had families with capacity they would be with their families.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by shelter residents that “the longer you stay on E. Lancaster the harder it is to get out”.  I was shocked to learn about the people who have spent decades there.

This week you will possibly read about a new study investigating the horrific level of victimization of women who stay on the street or frequent the shelters on E. Lancaster.   It’s not a dangerous place for you or me, for the people who work at RBI or live at Lancaster Lofts.  But if you are a woman living in a shelter or on the street, chances are over 40% that you have been physically assaulted in the last 12 months.  And this does not include problems associated with trash, narcotics dealing, public intoxication, public elimination, abandoned property.  If you put thousands of people in one square mile who are the poorest of the poor and have every problem imaginable, then you better be ready to spend a lot of money trying to combat the spiral of chaos that ensues.  This is the world I have been working in for the last 15 years.   (to be continued)