Locked In

Trinity Works says it helps poor people find housing and jobs. But an Observer investigation reveals questionable policies that do little except ensure its clients never leave.

At age 65, time is beginning to take its toll on Richard Price. A recent stroke, combined with a bad hip, makes the simple task of walking nearly impossible. Instead, he shuffles.

Price inches into the Burger King sandwiched between Trinity Works headquarters and the Prince of Wales apartments, where Price has lived since entering the Managed Care program last January. The restaurant is the only place within walking distance that Price, like other clients who spoke to the Observer, says he feels safe enough to talk about Trinity Works--there are no cameras or staff members here to monitor him.

Dressed in a wrinkled suit coat, a plastic ID tag that reads "OTC" attached to the lapel, Price eases his weary frame into a booth. Price says he doesn't have much time to talk. He's on his lunch break, and soon he'll have to return to his job stuffing envelopes inside the Occupational Training Center on the second floor of Trinity's three-story office building, which the agency moved into last December. The last thing he wants is to be late.

Two years of fund-raising efforts paid off last December when Trinity Works finally moved into its new headquarters in Old East Dallas. The agency also manages the neighboring 64-unit Prince of Wales apartment complex.
Two years of fund-raising efforts paid off last December when Trinity Works finally moved into its new headquarters in Old East Dallas. The agency also manages the neighboring 64-unit Prince of Wales apartment complex.
Two years of fund-raising efforts paid off last December when Trinity Works finally moved into its new headquarters in Old East Dallas. The agency also manages the neighboring 64-unit Prince of Wales apartment complex.
Mark Graham
Two years of fund-raising efforts paid off last December when Trinity Works finally moved into its new headquarters in Old East Dallas. The agency also manages the neighboring 64-unit Prince of Wales apartment complex.

"Just last week everyone was told, if anyone is five minutes late, they will have to spend two hours in overtime," Price says. He clutches his ID tag and adds, "If you don't wear this thing, it's a $5 fine."

Like most of Trinity's long-term clients, Price was in a bad spot when he landed on the agency's doorstep last year. He was homeless and broke. Though he'd rather not discuss it, he admits he was drinking, and the drinking, as it has before, led to minor troubles with the law. When Price checked into Trinity, he was impressed. The agency offered him just what he needed--a safe place to live while he completed his probation, paid off his court fines and put his life back on course. Despite his age, Price was also excited by the promise that he would receive vocational or occupational therapy that would allow him to obtain, in the agency's words, "maximum independence." To Price, that meant a job.

After he was accepted, Price gladly signed whatever paperwork his case manager gave him, including forms that gave the agency control over his Social Security and Supplemental Security Income checks. He also signed a contract in which he agreed, in part, to fully participate in all of Trinity's programs, including OTC. As part of the standard contract, Price agreed to forfeit his personal savings to the agency in the event he breaks the terms of his contract.

Soon, Price was living life according to Trinity's tightly run schedule--a routine he keeps today. Every weekday, he reports to OTC at 8:30 a.m. sharp and stays there until he punches out at 4:30 p.m., using a time clock. He is given an hour off for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Lunch, like breakfast, is served in the first-floor cafeteria, and it consists of leftover food donated to Trinity from the Anatole Hotel.

For his efforts, Price is given a weekly cash stipend of $30--drawn off of his government checks, which Trinity deposits in a "trust" account it keeps in his name. He also is given a bag of groceries that are supposed to cover his dinners and get him through the weekend. The weekends are his to spend as he wishes, but Price, like all of the 64 tenants who live in the Prince of Wales, must abide by a 12 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. Price holds up his apartment key. It is actually a plastic swipe card, which Trinity Works controls electronically and can shut off at any time. After midnight, Price says, the card doesn't work.

At first, Price says the regimen served him well. He successfully completed probation, and his life stabilized. As the months dragged on, however, he began to realize that the OTC program was all the job training he was going to get, and his hopes of finding a job and becoming independent began to fade. Eventually, it dawned on him that he could be stuck there for the rest of his life.

Today, Price says he would like to leave Trinity Works, but he can't. Although his contract clearly states that his participation in the program is voluntary, Price says there is nothing voluntary about it.

"They encourage me to sign a contract every month," Price says sarcastically. "They 'encourage' me by threatening to cut my stipend off if I don't sign it."

But there are bigger obstacles that prevent Price from leaving. Currently, Price says he's in the process of trying to remove Trinity Works as the payee on his government disability checks. Until he does so, there's no way he can put together enough money for another apartment. Price roots into his pocket and extracts a wrinkled copy of his most recent trust account transactions. According to it, Price has $49.99 left after the agency deducted his rent, weekly stipends and cleaning fees from his government checks.

"They're not giving me anything--just a piece of my Social Security," Price complains. "I'm not wanting to be a client of theirs, [but] they got my money. They got me hanging by a thread."

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