In Tarrant County there is a need for more housing for men who are homeless but are working towards a college degree. A faith-based non-profit is in the process of building a new facility to help with the growing demand.
At their main location, they have a medical clinic, dental clinic and ability for cataract surgery which is all free for people who are in need and are referred to their services. There is also a thrift store for families and individuals experiencing poverty to shop for free.
One of their major programs includes housing for homeless men who are in the process of getting a college education.
The Cornerstone New Life Center, located in the Fairmount Neighborhood, has been around since the mid-90s.
“Cornerstone gave me and everyone else here a chance, it’s up to us to do whatever we need to do with that great opportunity,” said Greg Burnette, a current resident.
Inside his room, everything from the ceiling to the floor is decorated with A&M memorabilia. Burnette, who said he received his associates from A&M in the 1980s fell on hard times within the past decade and was homeless.
“Nobody wants to be homeless and no one ever thought you would be, but somehow you wind up,” said Burnette who was homeless for almost two years.
“I was on the side of the freeway, I had given up and had lost all hope and I had been sitting in my car for five days hadn’t eaten in almost 30 days, I didn’t want to live. It was right before Thanksgiving. I looked out the window of my car and I said, ‘God either take me or save me, I don’t care.’ The next morning a truck driver knocked on my window called an ambulance and the rest is history, here I am it’s a true blessing.”
“And I was like, ‘Am I too old to go to school?” Questioned Burnette. “I love college, I’m older than a lot of the professors, but I have fun with it and they have fun with me. Students are great, you can call me g-paw, whatever, I have fun with it, it’s just a blessing.”
TCC works with homeless shelters to help men and women who are trying to change their trajectory in life.
Despite getting a free year of education, many are trying to navigate school while being homeless.
That’s where Cornerstone Assistance Network steps in. Through several screening processes, they accept less than 20 men into the program, depending on room availability.
“We use housing as a carrot, so to speak, to motivate them to get that education, and so housing is really a tool that we’re using to say you can do more than life,” said Philip Posey, who has served as the housing director for 23 years. “They had no hope. They were told that they probably couldn’t go to school they probably couldn’t finish, and for me, I knew that they could.”
He said they strive for ‘excellence’ and it’s not just about giving the men a roof over their heads, but providing a lifestyle program.
Residents have to follow strict rules like cleaning up after themselves and common areas and taking care of the property. They’re not allowed to use drugs or alcohol, and if someone violates the rules they can no longer live in the house.
They pay about $50 a month, but it’s usually provided through grant money.
“We encourage them all to make grades. “That’s their number one job whether here is to make good grades so that they can get scholarships because TCC is on for two years. That’s an associate’s degree. Most of our guys are getting their bachelor’s now,” said Posey.
According to Mike Doyle the chief executive officer and president of Cornerstone Assistance Network, the program is quite successful, and those who make it through do not revert back to homelessness.
He gave an example of a former resident who had been homeless for 13 years due to substance abuse and was kicked out of the house as a teen. After going through a rehabilitation program through the Salvation Army, he got clean and sober and was then able to move into the New Life Center and at the age of 29.
“We got him in school at Tarrant County College. He graduated with honors at Tarrant County College. TCU gave him a full scholarship for his junior, senior year and he graduated number one in his class. He went to work at King’s University Gateway Church up in Southlake. Stayed there for a few years, got another degree in computer science and now he’s working in the computer field married two kids, but it was a young man who society had given up on but given the opportunity to do better, he grasped it and did well at it and we just have hundreds of stories like that for guys,” said Doyle.
He said with the growing demand for the program, they’re building a new facility that will house 21 apartments in southeast Fort Worth in the Lancaster neighborhood. The almost $3 million project is expected to be finished early next year.
Doyle said it will be a similar setup as the New Life Center.
From firsthand experience, Burnette said he understands how this can be a life-changing opportunity for someone.
“It’s a miracle. I hadn’t talked to my kids in 10 years and my daughter found my Facebook page because they did an article on me, so now I have a relationship with her. I have 2 grandkids I get to see, and doors keep opening,” said Burnette.
He’s expected to graduate next May with a degree in psychology and a minor in religious studies from Texas Wesleyan University.
“What it does is it helps society because we’re getting back into the community and giving back and it’s just a blessing,” said Burnette. “If you do the right thing and in my opinion put your faith in God, everything works out.”