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.

What's more, Schaefer's policy of making her clients' housing contingent upon their participation in her program appears to violate the terms of a contract that governs the operation of the building.

In 1994, the building owners, led by Dallas architect Graham Greene, entered into a standard Housing Assistance Payments or "HAP" contract with the Dallas Housing Authority in which the building was designated as single-room housing for homeless people, whose rent would partially be paid by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That contract, which is still in effect between DHA and the original owners, requires the owners to provide residents some social services. It does not, however, require residents to accept those services, says Dallas attorney Jeff Veazey, who specializes in tenants' rights and is a former staff attorney at Legal Services of North Texas.

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.

"They've twisted this," says Veazey, who is holding a copy of the contract. "Trinity Works views the Wales as their property. They illegally changed the rules."

Conversely, Trinity Works cannot deny its clients access to their apartments simply because they failed to participate in the agency's programs. Indeed, the contract clearly states that the landlord, or in this case Trinity Works, must follow state law when it comes to evicting tenants. Generally, that means that Trinity Works cannot evict a tenant unless it has a court order to do so. Moreover, unless tenants are behind in rent, they can never be arbitrarily denied access to or "locked out" of their apartments.

Veazey is representing Daniel Murphy, a Prince of Wales resident since 1994 who has resisted Trinity's efforts to enroll him in their program. Last year, when Murphy failed to show up for OTC, he says his electronic swipe card was shut off and he was locked out of his apartment--a move that forced him to stay temporarily at a homeless shelter.

Murphy, who has been able to obtain employment on his own, says he doesn't see any benefit in participating in the OTC program and adds that he is repelled by Trinity's attempts to gain control over his life, particularly his finances.

"They said, 'We'll put it in a trust fund and manage your money for you.' I said, 'I don't need anyone to manage my money,'" Murphy says. "They wanted to control all the aspects of my finances, and they wanted me to work for them."

Murphy, who has not filed a lawsuit against the agency, isn't the only one who has been threatened with losing access to his housing because he failed to show up for OTC, documents show. For example, in 1998, one Wales resident signed a form in which he agreed to return to OTC.

"I understand...that all residents must participate in this program to maintain their residency," states the form, which is signed by the tenant, his case manager and Schaefer. "I understand that if I do not comply with the above plan, then I will be given notice to vacate the apartment. I will have five days to vacate the premises."

Another memo, sent to a female resident last September, was more threatening in its tone.

"The Trinity Works team expects you to come in today," the memo states. "You have a choice--if you come in, we will pick up where we left off. If you choose not to come in, you will be locked out of Wales for the weekend. The choice is yours."

One woman, who spoke to the Observer on the condition that she not be identified, says Trinity Works illegally evicted her shortly after it took over the Wales in 1998. The woman, who was 56 years old at the time, says she came home one night to discover that the locks on her door had been changed. A week earlier, Trinity Works gave her notice to vacate the apartment because she refused to participate in a substance abuse program. The woman, who lived in the Wales before Trinity took it over, says she was left on the street with no way to access her clothing, her medication or any of her personal belongings, which Trinity staff members packed up and put in storage.

"Where in the heck does she [Schaefer] think she can do this stuff and get away with it?" says the woman, who is still homeless. "Does she think she's God, saying you can't have a place to stay?"

Pat Canning, a former volunteer at Legal Services of North Texas, confirmed the woman's story, adding that she helped the woman regain her personal belongings after she turned to the agency for assistance.

"That was the worst thing I ever saw. How can you do a human that way?" Canning says. "I don't care if she is a drunk. She has legal rights. You don't just throw her out on the streets just because she didn't want to go into that rehab program."

Schaefer confirms that clients who refuse to participate in her program will be asked to give up their apartments, though she says she's uncomfortable with the word eviction.

"It's not a question of eviction," Schaefer says. "It's a question of this facility is part of a program, and that's what you do if you're gonna live there. It's not a question of evicting or not evicting. You know, it's a choice."

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