Denton coalition looking to help the chronically homeless

Denton coalition looking to help the chronically homeless

April 07
03:03 2016

Jynn Schubert | Staff Writer

@JynnWasHere

Denton’s Homelessness Coalition is looking into building a community-run, affordable housing neighborhood to help combat chronic homelessness in Denton County. The micro-committee is led by Patrick Smith, who has been on the mayor’s task force for the past year.

The coalition plans to follow the Housing First approach, constructing buildings called “tiny houses” to provide shelter for homeless individuals in Denton.

Patrick Smith Homelessness

Patrick Smith

“If we don’t focus on housing first, then all the other things these people are struggling with are very hard to deal with,” Smith said.

The group is not currently sponsored by the city but Mayor Chris Watts is supportive, Smith said. Smith hopes to keep it a community-owned operation, as money from the city could complicate things.

“With public funding comes a lot of strings that can really increase cost and limit flexibility,” Smith said. “I’m more looking for community leaders to encourage and be supportive of the ideas, and when necessary pass ordinances.”

One complication is in the houses Smith plans to build. “Tiny houses” are usually 400 square feet or less and provide quality living spaces at affordable prices, which are especially helpful to those who are chronically homeless.

“Right now, if you wanted to build a tiny house in Denton you can’t, because the development codes are specifically identified,” Smith said. “You could do it illegally, but you couldn’t get a building permit, so that’s one of the things we’re going to be taking on — making it legal to build a tiny house.”

Smith plans to wait until after the upcoming elections, when the committee is farther along before asking for help from city council.

“I haven’t talked to any of the current people running, but I know Sara Bagheri very well, I know Mike Geeves and I know the incumbents,” Smith said. “We’re just so early in the process I’m going to wait.”

The group will be meeting on April 19 and taking a day-trip to Austin, where they will visit the Community First location they hope to base the program off of. Stan Ingman, gerontology professor at UNT for 25 years, is also on the committee and heads the student-led Future Without Poverty group on campus.

“I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t seen it,” Ingman said. “But from people who’ve been there it sounds like quite an impressive project. It’s not just bricks and mortar, that’s only half of the story in the sense of building a sustainable development.”

Already there are people from all over Denton getting involved in the project. Courtney Cross, the new Community Impact Coordinator hired by the city to oversee homelessness in Denton, is also involved.

“When a community owns something like that, they support it,” Smith said. “So to me, that’s a very important part of our approach.”

Not everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, though, as some citizens speculate whether or not these amenities will bring in even more homeless people to Denton from elsewhere.

“People are coming for reasons other than [that] we have some long term solution,” Smith said. “They’re coming to Denton because it’s easy to get around, it’s a friendly city, and it’s a heck of a lot safer than Dallas or Fort Worth.”

Smith wrote similar sentiments in his guest article in the Denton Record-Chronicle in February, stressing that while he wants to help those who are chronically homeless, he believes in enforcing existing laws.

“I just put that out there to see if there’s any response, and the response has been very positive,” Smith said. “A lot of people that I didn’t expect were very interested. I think it’s a very Denton-ish solution.”

This is all part of a large push lately in the city both by the United Way and the city of Denton to combat the homelessness problem in the area. The city has been conducting more and more research into the homeless population using committees like the mayor’s task force.

“There’s nothing really in Denton County to deal with [chronic homelessness],” Smith said. “I believe in enforcing the laws – I don’t like panhandlers – but at the same time, if there’s people that need help, we need to at least have a means of offering them that solution.”

Featured Image: Courtesy | Mobile Loaves & Fishes 

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