After more than 30 years of serving the area, the Grayson County Shelter is still working to provide assistance to the homeless in this community.
The shelter began in 1987 through the efforts of the Denison Ministerial Alliance, and a year later it moved into its facility. Now the shelter provides temporary living quarters, meals and showers to homeless men, women and families.
“We generally say that we help about 350 people a year, but last year it was around 283,” Grayson County Shelter Executive Director Annette Limoges said. “We calculate that based upon how many beds we have and the average stay, which could be 48 or more days. We had someone last year that stayed for about 74 days.”
Limoges said that people often stay at the shelter for an extended period of time because of how difficult it is to find affordable housing in this area.
“Say you are working full time at a job where you make around $10 an hour,” she said. “That’s about $1,600 a month and most places around here require that your income be about three times what rent is before they will let you rent from them. Rent around here is over $600, so a lot of people cannot even afford to even get into an apartment.”
In the coming week, Limoges said that the shelter will be losing a family and, shortly thereafter, it will be gaining a new one.
“We see a few repeat singles,” she said. “But, you can only stay here twice, so it is not really as many repeat residents as you would think.”
About three-fourths of the homeless that come to the shelter are from Grayson County, Limoges said. About one-fourth are from Oklahoma and other parts of the United States.
“We are really the only 24-hour family facility in this area,” Limoges said.
To be eligible for a bed, a single man must be over the age of 45 and a single female must be over the age of 23. No minors without parents are eligible to stay at the facility. There is no admission without state issued identification. No unregistered guests are allowed. Each individual must clear a police check. No illegal drug or alcohol use is allowed. No tobacco use is allowed in the building. Individuals seeking shelter may not act violently or have a violent past charge. Individuals may not have charges of any kind against a child. And, anyone seeking refuge must follow the written rules of the shelter.
“We have many age exceptions and other exceptions, but those are case by case,” Limoges said. “We will also allow married partners to stay together or partners who share a child.”
The Grayson County Shelter is run by donations. Limoges said that since the shelter does not receive federal support, they are always looking for donations.
“There are so many organizations in this area that are looking to help people,” she said. “There is even a new non-profit program that is church-based that is trying to help homeless families. We get a lot of $20 donations here and there, and we also get a lot of larger donations from regular supporters. But we cannot depend on others for funding because there are just so many organizations helping people in this area.”
That is why, Limoges said, it is important that the shelter host its own fundraisers. In the fall, the shelter will host its 31st anniversary gala. Limoges said that she is working to have a celebrity appearance at the event.
Also, the shelter will be hosting a yard sale in July. Limoges said when people leave the shelter, they are sometimes given furniture to go into their new place. The items that they have not been able to give away will be put up for sale next month.
“When it comes to donations, people often ask what we need,” she said. “Anything that you would regularly use at home we are also in need of. Right now we are low on toilet paper and paper towels. We also need bottled water, cleaning supplies and food.”
Limoges also said that now is a good time for the shelter to begin stocking up on items to treat sunburns and upset stomach. In the fall, the shelter asks for cold and flu medications.
“We have the world’s best donors,” she said. “We will put our needs up on Facebook and then less than 10 minutes later we will have donors calling. We just have a lot of people that are willing to help us.”
Help often comes in ways that people do not think about.
“Even when we get the cards from people saying that they are praying for us or for the residents at the shelter — those are so helpful,” Limoges said.
When it comes to people in this area, there are still some that do not know about the shelter, Limoges said.
“If we were not here, there would be a bigger population of people on the street and there would also be more panic for people with families that have nowhere to go,” she said. “When people are released from TMC and other places, the police will call us and say there is someone that needs somewhere to go.”
Not just a place to stay overnight, the shelter gives people a place to go during the day. Limoges said that during power outages and ice storms, the shelter will make space for people, and when it is hot outside, the shelter allows people to come in and get cool during the day.
“We need to continue working to get our name out there because there are a lot of people in this area that need emergency housing,” she said. “People need a place for a period so that they can get back on their feet.”
The shelter is currently housing a family that was affected by Hurricane Irma.
“They have children, so they cannot just go out on the street,” Limoges said. “We have rooms, food and clothing. We help with gas cards and we also have case management.”
Serving the community, Limoges said, is the shelter’s strong point.
“It’s really our forte,” she said. “If you do not know what to do or where to go, call us. We know the resources in this area, and we know how to help. Sometime we have to send people out of the county or out of the state to get what they need, but we want to help everyone that comes through the doors even if it is with telling them about another area service.”