If you talk to Alonzo Grape about his job, he will make one thing clear:
“I’m not working with homeless people, I’m dealing with people experiencing homelessness.”
For Grape, the hours he spends weekly in Deep Ellum are about connecting people. For the 347 people in the neighborhood he worked with last year, it was about more than finding shelter.
When he started this job a year ago, he found people wanted a bit more than housing or to get off the street.
“They wanted to get beyond their own barriers,” Grape says. “So I called a lot of treatment centers across the state, built relationships with halfway houses and group homes. And they all have one thing in common: Change for the better. And that’s kind of what it is, and that’s what’s going on now.”
For Grape, that story of growth and transformation is one he can relate to.
Grape, who holds a psychology degree, is in recovery and has been close to the experiences many face living on the street. He started volunteering at The Bridge shelter 10 years ago and discovered how he could help more people follow a similar path out.
“I want to give them connection to resources that benefits in the long run, to get them help that they really want,” Grape says. “A lot of them have engaged with companies before, and it didn’t happen for them the way they wanted it to.”
As the Deep Ellum Foundation’s Homeless Outreach Case Worker, Grape was able to connect more than 200 people to housing last year. This coming year, the Foundation is adding even more hours per week to this effort.
He encourages people to recognize different tasks as accomplishments, such as getting their IDs and Social Security cards.
“I always try to put emphasis on, ‘This is a journey.’ I’m not not just dropping them off to group homes or halfway houses, I’m trying to target the individual, provide them some hope not to go back,” he says.
“When I first started doing this, I didn’t have the patience. I wanted everyone to make changes now, I was excited about my change and the connections. Then I had a good friend, a mentor, say, ‘You’re not in charge of the change, you get them connected with the change. They’re in charge of their own change.’”
Grape encourages everyone to understand that most people experiencing homelessness do not want to be there. Some may want to be there, but that doesn’t mean they never made attempts to get out. And that’s where Grape continues to work to fill a gap.
“What I love about it is, you get to learn about people; it’s not to say I have this good message and a lot of resources. I know what to say to try to become an investment in their own life. I get to work with people to help them find their own answer,” he says. “I look at it as a support agent to help utilize resources to do something different with whatever their situation is.”