December 17, 2021
There is a woman currently living at the city's homeless shelter, The Bridge, in downtown Dallas who needs your immediate help. This email is long, but it is important. It's the holidays, and we are in a position to literally take a woman off the streets of Dallas and get her into a warm, safe place to live by month's end. With your help.
It has been awhile since the eight of us who oversee The Ladder Project have reached out to you with any appeals. The COVID crisis kept us from taking on new project participants since our model is to work intensely one-on-one with people to find them jobs and apartments and furnish them through your donations.
In the past few months, we have rekindled our efforts. We partnered with two new homeless organizations -- Catholic Charities and OurCalling -- both of which help thousands of homeless people in crisis, often referring them to other non-profits for additional services and shelter. OurCalling is especially impressed with our model -- a caseworker recently told us that while only 10 percent of the homeless who come to her for help fit our model (no alcohol or drug addictions, no serious mental illness, must be willing to work) she knows of no other program that creates a total safety net for someone short term, giving that person housing, work, transportation and medical help all in one fell swoop, thus affording them a real chance of fundamentally restarting his or her life.
Although we have received several referrals recently, one appears to be a good fit, and we would like to introduce her to you.
Denise is a 55-year-old single woman, who grew up in McKinney as one of 10 children, and has been living at The Bridge since she lost her job in home health care at the start of the pandemic. She lost her older son in a motorcycle accident three years ago, and her younger son has struggled and remains largely out of touch with her. When she lost her job, she was living in an apartment in South Oak Cliff with her disabled brother and a friend, splitting the rent three ways. The friend moved out, her brother moved to a men's rooming house in South Dallas, and Denise found herself living alone in the apartment with no income to pay for it. Although laws passed during COVID prevented her from being evicted, Denise chose to move out when crime escalated at her complex, and she realized her rent debt was mounting. She moved in May 2020 to The Bridge as a temporary measure -- she had never been homeless for more than one night before -- but with no car and no money could not find a way out.
What impresses us most about Denise is her optimistic, sunny demeanor and her ability to motivate herself, despite her circumstances.
This past August, she got a job as a crossing guard at John Quincy Adams Elementary School in Pleasant Grove. Every week day, rain or shine, she rode the bus from the shelter in downtown Dallas to the school in Pleasant Grove for her two shifts -- 7 to 9 am and 2:30 to 4:30 pm. She loves her job, especially her relationships with the children who she shepherds across a busy intersection every day. Determined to better herself, and get transportation that would enable her to find a second job, she saved money to put a down payment on a used car, which she purchased in October. And she applied to the Dallas Housing Authority for a housing voucher to subsidize her $687/month income so she could get an apartment.
But life's challenges overwhelmed her again.
The DHA housing voucher was set to expire on December 19, and she had not secured an apartment due to application fees and red tape. The 2010 Mazda3 that she had purchased at a used car lot in South Dallas with 178,000 miles on it was in such disrepair that the day she bought it she was unable to get a state inspection because the mechanic said the car had too many engine and brake problems to pass. Denise spent several hundred dollars in repairs trying to get the car qualified for inspection, but to no avail. The dashboard is still lit up with warning lights, the brakes are still not working properly, and Denise has been afraid to drive it. The car's registration expires this week. She was badly taken advantage of: she paid $850 down, and was required to pay $200 every other week until May 2023 ($9,056 total). The car insurance is $75/month, her phone bill is $50/month, and last month (before she met us) when bills overwhelmed her, she went to a payday loan shop in Oak Cliff and borrowed $300. (The terms were incredible: $84 every other week for 12 weeks, with a balloon payment of $398.63 in May 2022 -- $1,406.63 for a $300 loan.)
We have been working daily with Denise for the past 10 days, racing against the clock to unwind her blatantly usurious financial obligations. We paid off the remainder of her payday loan ($385). We got a 30-day extension on her DHA housing voucher and toured a 55-and-older apartment complex in Casa Linda, six miles from Denise's school and currently under renovation. We picked the best available apartment, put down a $135 application fee and security deposit, and we are working with DHA administrators directly to get expedited approval and hopefully move Denise into her apartment by the end of the month. We are actively engaged with DISD administrators about getting additional work at DISD -- they feel the best fit is a $13.50/hour school bus monitor position (where she can train to become a $22.50/hour bus driver) or a $13.50/hour cafeteria worker (we have spoken to the school where she works as a crossing guard, and there is currently a vacant cafeteria position).
NOW WE NEED YOU.
We need a car for Denise. We are hoping that someone in the congregation has a car that he or she is willing to donate to the shul as a tax write-off. Perhaps you have a mother-in-law car, or a teenager's car, or a car that you were thinking of trading in for a new car -- but would be willing to donate instead as a great mitzvah. If you currently have a car for sale, perhaps we could negotiate! (If no congregant has an available car, we will be pursuing buying a small, used car with Ladder Project funds that you all have generously donated in the past.)
This request has become URGENT.
Last week we began negotiations with the owner of the car dealership, Michael Laney of Credit Auto Sales, 1211 S. Barry Avenue. Although he initially refused to answer any of our calls or emails, we obtained his cellphone number through Whitepages.com ($9.99 for one report). We told him that the car was unsafe and should not have been sold, especially at an exorbitant price, in its current condition. He was dismissive, stating that complaints come to him all the time. He refused to refund the $1,250 Denise has paid so far (even knowing she was homeless), but did agree after 10 calls to take back the car and void her Contract of Sale. Although we had hoped to return the car to him earlier this week, when the next $200 was due, Denise underwent emergency surgery to remove two broken teeth after multiple visits to Parkland Hospital for severe pain and infection. (Dr. Howard Kessner has generously offered to provide Denise's dental care pro bono going forward.)
Despite our best efforts and with no warning, the car dealer repossessed the car late last night at The Bridge. We have purchased Denise a monthly DART bus pass to get to work, but we need to get her a car to put all the other pieces of our plan for her together.
We will also be reaching out to the congregation in a few weeks when Denise moves into her apartment. We will need to fully furnish her one-bedroom apartment, including all household and kitchen items. She has no belongings.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any leads on a car. If you have good, used furniture or household items you know you will be able to donate later this month (not until then because we have no storage), please include that information also.
Thanks everyone for your continued support of The Ladder Project.
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share