North Texas Daily

Group provides rent for Denton homeless

Group provides rent for Denton homeless

Group provides rent for Denton homeless
November 19
23:28 2014

Cameron Coates / Intern Writer

UNT and Giving Hope Inc. are joining the 100,000 Homes Campaign to provide a year’s free rent in an apartment to the five homeless individuals most likely to die on the streets in Denton this winter.

The 100,000 Homes Campaign centers on a “Housing First” philosophy, which prioritizes the root cause of homelessness–not having a home–instead of the symptoms causing it.

With those placed in the program, 80 percent remain housed after the year’s free rent, according to their website.

There are no strings attached to the apartment as long as they adhere to the lease agreement. They discourage imposing conditions on permanent housing, whether related to health, employment or sobriety.

Denton was approved for a pilot to see how the campaign would go in the community, Program Manager of Giving Hope Inc. Alicia Froidl said.

“Basically, we take their concept and try and keep it as similar as possible but at that same way make adaptations,” Froidl said. “We’re using the social work students at UNT to help us accomplish ours.”

UNT social work professor Cassidy Baker has all 34 of her students involved in the program. One student, Sara Ferguson, 59, had enough persistence to get a meeting with UNT President Neal Smatresk to inform him of the program. In her thank-you note to Smatresk, she let him know just how close this issue resonates with UNT.

“Last week, the volunteer committee had a table in front of the UNT library to advertise it and ask for volunteers, and one of the students that was there had another student approach her and it turns out that he is a homeless student,” Ferguson said. “It was one of those first cold days. He sleeps in his van. He doesn’t have enough funds to be able to go to school and have a place to live.”

Over Nov. 18-20, volunteers are combing the Denton streets in groups hitting all the places frequented by the homeless and surveying them using a Vulnerability Index.

With their consent, they will go over everything from mental conditions, military service, drug addictions, to where they sleep at night. At the end of the survey, they will take a picture of the person to identify them later.

The information will be crunched in a database and used to identify the five most likely to die this year. Data findings will be presented at the Denton Civic Center Nov. 21 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The campaign uses eight vulnerability indicators for those homeless longer than six months, including number of recent hospitalizations, age and medical and psychiatric conditions.

Volunteers were trained Nov. 17, and UNT students assisted with the training. Some of the boxes to check in the survey relate to what the volunteer is able to notice through observation, including signs of drug or alcohol abuse and signs of mental illness.

Mac Park, Our Daily Bread and the Salvation Army are some of spots volunteers will check. Froidl realizes the complications of getting sensitive information from those in need.

“I think the willingness to give information just kind of depends on the individual,” she said. “There’s some that are going to be really hesitant to give any information simply because they’ve worked with the system before, it’s failed them and they aren’t interested in really doing any of it anymore. Then we have other people that maybe don’t want to disclose that they have children because the fear of CPS [Child Protective Services] taking their kids away.”

Baker wants volunteering and seeing the homeless firsthand to help overcome the attitude that all they need to do is pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get a job.

“It could be the person sitting next to you in class,” she said. “You could be one paycheck away from that happening to you. There’s students that suffer from homelessness on campus.”

The project is funded on the federal and state level along with private donations. The “Housing First” approach saved the taxpayers money in communities where it has already been implemented, according to a 2007 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In Denver, the program reduced the public cost (mental health, shelter, substance abuse and incarceration) of services by $15,773 per person, per year. That equaled to $2,373 saved when compared to the annual cost of supportive housing ($13,400).

Sara Ferguson, a student in Baker’s class who has been heavily involved in the project, has shed a lot of tears because of the generosity of donors. She feels the weight of this issue.

“This week as the cold weather started to settle in, I normally wake up. I’m so excited. It’s close to Thanksgiving. It’s a lot of fun,” Ferguson said. “All I could think about was, ‘Where are they going to sleep?’”

Featured Image: The Salvation Army Social Services and Shelter, located at 1508 E. McKinney St., is where volunteers for the 100,000 Homes Campaign check for homeless individuals. The Salvation Army tends to the needs of the homeless and working poor in Denton. Photo by Evan McAlister – Staff Photographer

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