North Texas Daily

Hidden in Plain Sight: documenting poverty in Denton

Hidden in Plain Sight: documenting poverty in Denton

April 08
10:02 2014

Poverty in Denton is not out of control—at least not on the surface. Dozens of organizations offer help to keep the city and county mostly free of blight.

But two stark facts reveal a hidden truth about a county most people perceive as “wealthy”:  About one in five county residents live below the poverty line, and about one-third of almost 700,000 people do not earn a livable income.

Beyond the two universities and the expansive, sprawling neighborhoods, past the historic Square and its nationally recognized amenities, there are people struggling—to put food on the table, to find a ride to work, to recover, to survive. These are people in Denton, Sanger, Corinth, Argyle and other surrounding towns in Denton County.

The hard truth about Denton is that while poverty is not out of control, the problem exists.  There are men, women and children who are going hungry; there is an income disparity widening like a sinkhole. Although cities like Lewisville, Lake Dallas and Krum have median incomes well above the state average of $49,646, Denton, Sanger and Pilot Point are all below.

In comparison, more than 50 percent of single-female households with children under 5 live below the poverty line in Denton, according to the United Way of Denton County. That number leaps another 20 percent in Sanger, but the percentage rests at 13.8 percent in the affluent city of Lewisville, less than a third of the national average.

Behind these galling statistics are faces—women seeking shelter from abusive partners, families planning for the future, recovering addicts looking for a chance somewhere, anywhere.

Over the course of the semester, students in the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism ventured out in search of subjects for this year’s school-wide project—“Hidden in Plain Sight.”

Whether it is the largest community garden in the U.S. or a motorcycle club giving the needy a place to stay, Denton County houses numerous organizations that are looking to help the impoverished and downtrodden.


Throughout the project, there will be more than a dozen stories in the NT Daily, encompassing the work of students in feature writing, public affairs and photography courses.

The opening story, which will run in Thursday’s paper, is Joshua Friemel’s coverage of the Sons of Thunder motorcycle ministry and halfway house.

The organization, run by former drug and alcohol addict Ben “Tank” Carswell, takes in those turned away from traditional shelters.

“A lot of people that are poverty stricken get hurt by these church people really bad,” Carswell says in the piece. “They preach one thing, but when it comes down to doing what they preach, they don’t do it. People see that.”

Carswell houses, clothes and feeds these “outcasts,” who, because of their tattoos, drug-addled pasts or criminal records, are not welcomed by Denton County’s traditional shelters.

Read more about Carswell and his two-wheeled ministry this Thursday.


Caitlyn Jones wrote about an organization helping domestic abuse survivors.

In the U.S. about one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic violence over the course of their lives. These acts of violence are an obvious issue to society, but Denton County Friends of the Family strives to deliver help to those who suffer through these malicious acts.

“Our mission is to provide help to victims, as well as eliminate abuse in the larger picture,” Director of Victim Outreach Nicole Holmes says in the article.

Along with providing shelter for the people attacked, the group provides food, counseling and legal advice for free. The “Friends” also offer advocacy workshops at schools and churches to discourage violent outbreaks and bullying.

Read more about Denton County Friends of the Family on this


Melissa Wylie wrote about the United States’ largest community garden.

Shiloh Field Community Garden sits on 14.5 acres in northeast Denton. The land is separated into 152 15’ by 15’ plots families use for free, and the rest is garden for accumulating crops for donation.

Although the land Shiloh Field sits on is owned by Denton Bible Church, everything is run by donations of money, time and supplies.

Volunteers harvested more than 23,000 pounds of produce at the garden last year, with more expected for 2014.

A message from God during a service at the Denton Bible Church spurred 74-year-old master gardener Gene Gumfory to plant the seeds for the development.

“For the first time—and I can’t tell you why—it meant something different,” Gumfory says of hearing the passage. “I said, ‘Hey, I can do that.”

Read more about the garden and the people who rely on it next Thursday.


Ian Pribanic exposed the limitations residents of Sanger face on a daily basis.

The effects of poverty in a small town are different than those seen in the larger metros. With a lack of public transportation, a shortage of charitable organizations and limited quality employment opportunities, small towns like Sanger face maximized difficulties when compared to their larger counterparts.

“Resources anywhere are limited and added to that is the challenge to access those resources in a rural setting,” Sanger Education Foundation executive director Valerie Foster says in the story.

Foster serves as the lone caseworker in Sanger, striving to help the impoverished residents. With Section 8 affordable housing remaining stagnant over the years coupled with the lack of public transportation options, Sanger residents are forced to complete tall tasks with little to no assistance.

Read more about those challenges next Tuesday.

Written by William Darnell, Editor-in-Chief, and Trent Johnson, Features Editor.

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