Carolyn Poirot Health Correspondent
Who was that good Samaritan who established the Fort Worth Foundation to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry in and around Fort Worth? While most Fort Worth charitable foundations are associated with well-known Fort Worth family names – Richardson, Carter, Burnett, Bass, Kimbell, Cliburn – the Fort Worth Foundation was established by Norman Kronick, a real estate developer and investor who insisted on remaining anonymous. Kronick established the foundation several years before he died in 2010 and endowed it with an $85 million gift to serve the residents of Fort Worth and the surrounding North Texas area in perpetuity. He named his foundation for the city he had grown to love.
A major grant from the Fort Worth Foundation will be used to build and operate a 25,000-square-foot central resource center at 1513 E. Presidio St., near the homeless shelters on East Lancaster Avenue. Building plans are being finished and will go to the architect in the next month with the hope of breaking ground in April, according to Ted Blevins, former executive director of the Lena Pope Home, who is now heading True Worth, the Fort Worth Foundation’s operating entity. A long-time but little-known major benefactor of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, Kronick served on its board and contributed to several other local nonprofits serving the hungry and the homeless, including the Presbyterian Night Shelter, Union Gospel Mission, the Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels and the Fort Worth Day Resource Center for the Homeless.
However, at his insistence, he remained anonymous, other than to a few key individuals. “That’s the way he wanted it,” said Sandra Knight, when I told her I was having trouble finding any information about him. “He didn’t want to build any empires. He wanted to be remembered as a mensch, a good man,” Knight said. Mensch is a Yiddish word for a person of integrity, someone who has a good sense of right and wrong and takes responsibility for doing the right thing the right way. For years, Kronick was the largest benefactor of the food bank, and no one else on the board knew it, Knight said. “He bought rice and beans by the truck load because he always said, ‘If you have rice and beans, you can feed your family,’” she recalled. “He worked very hard and liked to see everyone have the opportunity to work hard and be successful.” Knight is a former business partner in Kronick’s Fort Worth industrial office and warehouse real estate businesses – including the 1.5-million-square-foot Riverbend Business Park on East Loop 820 at Trinity Boulevard. She is now director of the Fort Worth Foundation. A U.S. Army veteran, Kronick first became involved in the real estate business with his father, Harry Kronick, in Honolulu. Together they developed a low-income apartment complex across from the Pearl Harbor submarine base as well as commercial office and warehouse property in Hawaii. He moved to Fort Worth in 1997 when he purchased Riverbend, Knight said. “When people teased him about trading Hawaii for Fort Worth, I remember him saying that his grandmother always said you should live above the shop” to be a successful shopkeeper, Knight recalled.
Kronick left his foundation with a simple mission: help the homeless and hungry in our community. “We looked around to figure out where to start to really make a difference in helping people get their lives back on track, and decided to take a holistic approach,” Knight said. “Health care is so important in getting people to the point where they can work hard and be successful. …The link between overcoming chronic homelessness and physical and mental health makes so much sense.” The new community resource center here will include a large outpatient health clinic leased and operated by the JPS Health Network. It also will have offices for various nonprofit agencies that provide social services for the homeless with special emphasis on short- and long-term housing needs.
The clinic will provide homeless people with a “health care home” where they will have their own regular primary care physicians, preventive care, chronic disease management and orthopedic, dental and podiatric care. “We have learned that foot care is especially important to homeless people,” Blevins said. “We don’t think about our feet until they hurt, but the homeless often wear shoes they have found that are the wrong size or worn out and are no longer good for their feet. A significant number have diabetes, and foot sores can become a huge problem for people with diabetes.” Showers, laundry services, postal services, a computer center and storage for medications that require refrigeration, as well as storage for valuables will be included, along with counseling and help in applying for housing and jobs, Blevins said. Such a resource center was proposed in Fort Worth’s “Directions Home, ” a 10-year plan adopted by the city council in 2008 to make sure that homelessness is “rare, short-term and non-recurring” by 2018. The plan focuses on “Housing First,” with the emphasis on helping homeless people find permanent supportive housing with case management services, rather than sheltering them in temporary transitional facilities. The most recent “point-in-time count” conducted last January identified 2,390 homeless people in Tarrant County. Among them were 739 children under 18, 980 women and 217 veterans. Only about 10 percent have chronic substance abuse problems and 13 percent have serious mental illness, according to Otis Thornton, homeless program director for the city of Fort Worth.
“On Jan. 24, 2013, our point-in-time survey [conducted every other year], found 281 unsheltered people sleeping outdoors – in cars, vacant building, under bridges. That’s up 106 percent since 2007,” Thornton added. They most need support in finding and keeping homes that are “affordable, permanent, safe, accessible, stigma free and fully integrated into the community,” concluded Thornton and other participants at a recent seminar sponsored by the Hogg Foundation at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Having their own “health care home” could be a giant step in the right direction.