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Tent Cities: Denton City Council weighs sanctioning homeless encampments

Tent Cities: Denton City Council weighs sanctioning homeless encampments

Tent Cities: Denton City Council weighs sanctioning homeless encampments
February 21
12:45 2018

The Denton City Council discussed the future of tent encampments during their meeting on Feb 13. Council members discussed sanctioning the encampments but did not come to a decision.

Council member Keely Briggs requested that The Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team conduct research on tent encampments in Denton. The team presented their research to the council on Feb 13.

The tent city research stated only 22 percent of the need for emergency shelter is being met so homeless individuals turn to encampments.

The city has three options regarding tent encampments. They can close the encampments and clear everyone out, issue regular cleanups and provide support through sanitation resources or take no action and continue to monitor the camps.

“Until we find places where we can put people, the solution isn’t to put them in a tent,” Mayor Chris Watts said. “[The question is] how can we find a place where people can actually have a roof over their head? [They need to] have shelter from the elements and have some sense of self-confidence and begin to build that self-confidence to re-emerge into society and be self-sustained.”

The Monsignor King Outreach Center provides 90 beds for the community and The Salvation Army provides 36 beds. That means many of the 695 people on

the priority housing list do not have shelter.

“The city’s No. 1 priority is public safety and that includes the people in the encampments and the people around the encampments,” said Courtney Cross, director of homelessness initiatives at United Way.  “It can be difficult to gauge whether or not they are a threat to the public but it’s where people can find community and feel safe.”

In 2015, Watts suggested creating a homelessness task force, in response to which the city took a collective impact approach. The Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team was formed in 2016, which brought many organizations together to combat the issue.

“This city has done a tremendous amount of work in the last three years,” Watts said. “The city of Denton has taken a very strong lead in doing something about [homelessness].”

The United Way of Denton serves as the backbone for the team whose goal is to make homelessness a rare occurrence.

Other organizations involved include the Mental Health and Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Authority, The Salvation Army, Giving Hope, the Denton County Homelessness Coalition, Journey to Dream and Our Daily Bread.  

“We think that the synergy that comes from people working together is a lot stronger than people working alone,” said Dani Shaw, Denton’s human services coordinator.

Representatives from United Way and human services also updated the city council on Denton homelessness initiatives. They discussed updates to the coordinated entry system and a new fund.

The presentation said the city provided $925,000 for the issue in 2017 and 2018.

Coordinated Entry

Coordinated entry systems provide communities with information on the needs of people experiencing housing crises.

The local system was developed to assess the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Denton County. People experiencing homelessness are encouraged to visit one of the seven participating nonprofit locations to take a 10-15 minute assessment.

This helps connect them with resources and gather information on housing need. The data from coordinated entry are kept in a centralized system so all participating agencies have access to it.

“We know top to bottom what our homelessness population situation looks like,” said Gary Henderson, executive director at United Way.

The most recent results for Denton’s coordinated entry system are from Jan. 11, 2018. The system found 695 people who are put on a housing priority list as of that date. Those individuals are divided into three categories based on need.

There are 154 people in need of immediate alternate housing arrangements. This involves small cost-effective solutions that are usually not permanent.

There are 388 people in need of rapid re-housing, a process which involves moving individuals or families into permanent housing as fast as possible.

The remaining 153 people are in need of permanent housing with support. These people need long-term housing and support to stay housed.

“I believe housing is a human right,” Cross said. “You can’t expect someone to maintain stability through employment or other ways if their sleeping situation is denied and uncertain.” 

Barriers Fund

The City Council presentation updated the city leaders on the new barriers fund, which is a three-pronged approach that helps agencies house families.

The fund works through family support, landlord outreach and community outreach.

“The biggest need for this community is housing for homeless families,” Watts said.

Landlords may be hesitant to provide housing to some individuals due to criminal and credit history. The fund offers financial assistance for landlords who are contemplating housing a family.

“[The fund] will help with risk mitigation, getting people housed, keeping them housed and additional costs for supportive services like helping people who are going to school to increase their income,” Cross said.

Cross said if landlords are worried that someone has an eviction on their record or a broken lease then the fund can offer a double deposit. She also said if a lease is broken, the fund can cover 60 days of rent.

“It’s really a way to further advocate for families seeking housing but also speak the language of the real estate world who have a bottom line and a business model,” Cross said.

Shaw said homelessness is a complex issue because people are homeless for many reasons and there are different avenues to getting them housed. She said each individual person needs different resources to be served.

“[The community should] recognize that people experiencing homelessness don’t meet the stereotypical views,” Shaw said. “Knowing that everyone who is experiencing homelessness started, probably, just where they are. Not to see them as different but people who are in a different situation.”

Resources

People experiencing homelessness can go to the following locations and participate in coordinated entry.

  • Salvation Army Denton: 1508 E. McKinney St. — Monday-Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Monsignor King Outreach Center: 300 S Woodrow Ln. — Monday-Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • Giving Hope Inc.: 117 W. Sycamore St. — Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Our Daily Bread: 300 W. Oak St. — Monday-Friday 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Journey to Dream: 250 N. Mill Street in Lewisville — 9:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m. for youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Denton County MHMR: 2519 Scripture St. — Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for existing clients.

Featured Image: Volunteers at the Monsignor King Outreach Center in Denton place new bunk beds inside the shelter in May 2017. Courtesy Monsignor King Outreach Center

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Devin Rardin

Devin Rardin

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