LaTasha Smith never knows who she will meet at Housing and Community Development Department outreach events, but Smith said the residents’ needs are often urgent and their stories can be heartbreaking.
“At one event last year, I met an 88-year-old woman who was sleeping in her bathtub every night,” said Smith, an HCDD community involvement coordinator.
“Her home was in significant disrepair. Her furniture was destroyed and her mattress was full of bed bugs, so the tub was the safest place to sleep. Those are the kinds of stories you hear,” Smith said.
The program prioritizes services for residents who have a disability, who are elderly, employed with minor children, or those who are providing full-time care to a household member with a disability.
“We were able to assist her with the application process, find temporary accommodations, and help her make repairs to her home,” Smith said. “We also connected her with a local furniture company that gave her a bed and living room set.”
Faith and compassion direct Smith’s career compass toward jobs that serve the most vulnerable residents of our community, she said. A newcomer to the City of Houston, she previously worked with homeless Houstonians at Star of Hope.
She also served as a program manager for a local cancer survivorship nonprofit organization.
Smith doesn’t have a formal theological education or professional background in ministry, but she took a leap of faith to accept an invitation to teach worship in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2015.
“You just never know where life will take you,” she said. “I’ve learned that every position that God puts you in — it’s not just a job, it’s an assignment.”
Nearly two years into her role at HCDD, Smith builds upon her previous experience to reach Houston residents in new ways.
Earlier this month, Smith invited Houston area ministers to a lunch-and-learn event that showcased HCDD’s various assistance programs, including the disaster recovery, home repair program, homebuyer assistance program, fair housing rightsand more.
She hosted a similar educational workshop for local realtors earlier this year.
“A lot of people — especially older people — may be reluctant or too proud to reach out and ask for help, or they simply don’t know that our assistance programs exist,” Smith said. “That’s why our connections with the faith community and nonprofits are so important.
“People will talk to and listen to their pastors, and the pastors know their community’s needs better than we do,” she said. “We want them to spread the word about our programs to their congregations and the community.”
The majority of Smith’s work takes place at outreach events around the city — at multi-service centers, churches, schools and various community resource fairs.
Smith said she has a special fondness for connecting with older generations, and her colleagues have taken notice.
“My co-workers laugh because a 92-year-old lady calls me at the office all the time,” Smith said. “When you help people through a really tough time you develop a bond with people you would never normally connect with.
“It’s an exciting job; sometimes it’s trying, especially when you work at disaster recovery events,” she said. “You have so many people who are still going through it.
You just have to understand that you can’t take things personally when residents are angry and short with you. You just try to be patient and empathetic.”
Onecca Porter, an HCDD administrative manager, praised Smith for her compassion and enthusiasm on the job.
“LaTasha is a great asset to the team,” Porter said. “She brings a tremendous amount of energy and outreach experience to the department.
“She’s a go-getter and she interacts well with residents. Some seniors can give you hard time and ask tough questions, but LaTasha is so patient and compassionate,” Porter said.
“She knows how to give them the attention they need, so we can give the best possible assistance.”