DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – After living out of her car and in a couple of shelters, Verdie Simmons, 62, now has a place of her own to call home.
“This saved my life. It’s saving my life, you know, I have a life because of this place.”
Simmons says she can never forget the day back in December when she moved into St. Jude Center in Dallas.
“When I came in, I was like I have a refrigerator, I have a bed, I opened up the closets, I went into the bathroom, I opened the cabinets, I’m like I can buy groceries.”
She and more than 100 others 55 and older who were once homeless live in their own apartments.
St. Jude opened last August after the Catholic Housing Initiative bought and redeveloped a vacant assisted living facility.
Catholic Charities Dallas manages it and provides social services to help residents like Simmons become self-sufficient.
Dave Woodyard, President & CEO of Catholic Charities Dallas said, “We’re very proud of it.”
He says the project began several years ago after members of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Homelessness Commission asked both his agency and the Catholic Housing Initiative this question. “What were the Catholics doing about homelessness?”
While Woodyard says they were working with the homeless, they hadn’t created housing for them.
This year, officials say there are 4,538 homeless people in Dallas and Collin Counties.
Woodyard says there is more to do, but that St. Jude is a start. “St. Jude is something that’s special because of all the people coming together and jot just the social service providers we’ve mentioned but also the volunteer community.”
He says in the next 18 months, both agencies hope to open a second facility for the homeless.
Simmons says her struggles with homelessness began after a series of health issues for her and two of her sons and marital problems.
When she couldn’t keep up with the bills, she says she was evicted from her apartment, and started living in her car. “I was just spiraling down.”
After entering a rehab program in Dallas for a drinking problem, she went to an emergency shelter.
Her arrival at the shelter stands in stark contrast with her arrival at St. Jude. “When I walked in there that first day, I saw 400-500 people, strangers, anger, and I’m like ‘Oh my God’, and when I walked in here (St. Jude) I got hugs, I got smiles, and welcome home.”
After two weeks in the emergency shelter, she was moved to a different program in the shelter where she lived for two years.
In December of last year, she found out that the next day, she would be moving to St. Jude.
As Simmons works at the front desk greeting people as they walk into St. Jude, she doesn’t want to think about what her life would be like without her new home. “Lost. Insecure. Depressed. Angry. There’s nothing in this world I can say I want other than being right here where I am. That’s how important – this is my home.”