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Mental illness, violence among top factors in homelessness

Mental illness, violence among top factors in homelessness

Mental illness, violence among top factors in homelessness
February 21
01:01 2019

Homeless data from United Way of Denton reports unemployment, mental illness and domestic violence are among the top factors leading to homelessness.

Our Daily Bread, a community soup kitchen that provides the hungry and homeless with access to hot meals, resources and services such as medical evaluations and transportation, has been a part of the Denton community since 2000.

Senior Program Coordinator Myles Woods, 31, said although food and hunger related issues are present within Denton, that there are “much more needs” than those alone.

“It’s actually quite baffling how high a percentage of people who just really do not know where their next meal is going to be,” Woods said on food insecurity. “As we started growing and more people were getting fed, we started seeing that there are much more needs than just food and hunger.”

According to the North Texas Food Bank, an estimated 15 percent of Denton County residents – 113,260 individuals – are considered food-insecure. Across the North Texas region, NTFB estimates that out of more than 800,000 people across their 13-county service area, one in six people are food-insecure.

Other provisions provided by Our Daily Bread include shower and laundry vouchers, which allow members of the community to access showers through Parks and Recreation facilities, as well as the ability to clean their clothes at the North Texas Laundromat. At-risk members of the community can access gas and transportation vouchers to be able to travel to job interviews or the doctor.

Along with vouchers, Woods said the program also provides medical check-ups for those who do not have health insurance or the means to afford those services.

Cepriana Nickerson, 22, has been going to Our Daily Bread since becoming homeless more than a year ago, she said. Since then, she said she has experienced many misconceptions about why people experience homelessness.

“Everyone’s not homeless because of drugs and alcohol,” Nickerson said. “There are some that are [homeless] because of drugs and alcohol but it’s not everybody.”

According to the 2018 Denton County Homeless Coalition Point-In-Time Count Survey, substance abuse and addiction accounted for 3.4 percent of individuals reasoning for experiencing homelessness in Denton County.

The leading causes provided by the P.I.T. Count Survey detail that 38 percent of those experiencing homelessness is due to unemployment, while 27.8 percent listed inability to pay their rent or mortgage and 14.1 percent listed domestic violence.

Nickerson said there are others, like herself, who became homeless because they were fleeing domestic violence.

Within Denton County, the total number of households that experienced homelessness while fleeing domestic violence was 66, according to United Way of Denton County’s homelessness data as of January. The number of families experiencing homeless due to domestic violence is 38, while the number of individuals is 25.

Nickerson’s children who were born before the domestic violence incident were forced to be placed in the custody of Nickerson’s mother by Child Protective Services, she said.

Although she is not able to speak to or see her children as often as she would like, Nickerson said she’s glad they are not with her during “this situation.”

“I’m thankful that they don’t have to go through this and that they can get three real meals and not just snacks and that they have a restroom they can use to brush their teeth,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson said she became pregnant with twins after her abuser drugged and raped her, however the twins died before birth.

Denton County Friends of the Family is Denton County’s sole provider of shelter and outreach services to those impacted by rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Among the services included are a 24-hour crisis line, 32-bed protective residential shelter, adult, child and adolescent counseling and legal advocacy.

Within Denton County, another significant reason for homelessness was mental illness at 9.8 percent.

Additionally, 32.7 percent of respondents self-reported experiencing “serious mental illness,” while 20 percent of respondents reported having a “substance abuse disorder.”

Kevin Sample, an eight-year Navy veteran with multiple tours-of-duty, has been going to Our Daily Bread since becoming homeless four months ago.

Sample, like many veterans, said he experiences mental illnesses acquired through his military service.

“I suffer from [post-traumatic stress disorder] and [bipolar disorder] because I’ve been in three wars,” Sample said. “I left an unhealthy household because I wanted to get myself to where I needed to be.”

According to United Way of Denton County, approximately 51 veterans are experiencing homelessness in Denton County as of last month. Sample said the estimate of homeless veterans in Denton County is an under-reported figure.

“The people they’re talking about is because we go to the vet center and sign in,” Sample said while acknowledging homeless veterans are less likely to identify themselves as veterans. “When I first got here, I didn’t want to tell anybody I was a veteran but then it popped in my head that was a proud time in my life.”

Sample, who was nominated by Denton City Councilwoman Deb Armintor to the Homeless Shelter Committee, said he “wants to be a catalyst for change.”

The goal of the committee, Armintor said, is to look at the smaller aspects of the bigger issue of homelessness and what the city can do to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring.”

“You look around and there’s one computer and 80 people out there,” Sample said about Our Daily Bread. “If you can give us three more computers and say this is a job resource center, then you’re giving people all the tools in the world and there’s no more excuses.”

Armintor said she chose Sample for the committee because of his empathy and understanding.

“Kevin is really good at talking and listening to other people and is a true leader,” Armintor said, acknowledging that while there were a number of people, he was at the top of her mind.

Armintor said she believes it is important that Sample is on the committee and that the shelter committee recognizes that the status-quo is inadequate and the city could do more to address issues impacting the homeless community.

Featured Image: Our Daily Bread serves people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity in Denton. File.

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Ryan Higgs

Ryan Higgs

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