Representatives from Denison churches plan to meet with city leaders later this month to discuss finding a solution to the city’s homeless problem. The meeting comes following the dispersal of at least one homeless camp within the city last month.
Organizers for the meeting said they plan to use it as an opportunity to discuss possible services for the homeless and outline plans to achieve their goals. The meeting is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. on April 18 at Waples Memorial United Methodist Church.
“It is a call to action meeting for the city and for us to say, ‘Okay, this is our plan and what are you going to do to help us get there,’” Micah Blevins, missions and outreach coordinator for Waples Memorial UMC, said.
Blevins said Denison placed notices at several homeless camps around the city in mid-March informing people they were trespassing and had until March 21 to leave the property or face arrest. This date was later pushed back to March 26 at the request of volunteers who asked for more time to help the displaced homeless residents of the camp.
Blevins said the notice was posted at camps, including one under the viaduct and another near the Eisenhower Birthplace.
“When they got the notices, they came here for help — ‘What do we do? Where do we go,’” Blevins said, explained the church does provide services for the homeless.
City Manager Jud Rex said Denison posted the notices at only one camp located near Owings and Crockett due to concerns by residents about people camping in the area. The city received permission from the Texas Northeaster Railroad to enforce trespassing regulations on the property. Rex said damage to the property had been reported.
Rex added that the city had to do additional clean up for trash and a few tents once the camp had cleared.
“I feel like the city is the one with the issue because they have been there for years,” Blevins said, adding that trains had dropped supplies by the camp previously.
Following the eviction, Blevins said church leaders started collaborating on a solution for the displaced homeless. Through these conversations, Blevins said another church was able to lease private property where a camp could be set up. As of Thursday, Blevins said the camp has four residents with room for about 15.
Blevins spoke with Denison Police to let them know about the camp and said the owner of the property was aware and had given permission for it. Within 15 minutes of speaking to police, Blevins said she was contacted by Rex and Denison Mayor Janet Gott.
Blevins said the city leaders asked about the camp and said city ordinance requires a site must have running water and electricity, but these services were already provided at the site.
“The city has told the volunteers that their camp cannot exist more than 30 days,” Rex said Friday. “It is our typical compliance time for a nuisance violation.”
Despite this, Blevins said city leaders overall seemed receptive to efforts to assist the city’s homeless population and the efforts of volunteers with area churches.
“The mayor said how we handle this will show who we are as a community and I appreciate that,” Blevins said.
This mirrored comments by Rex, who said the meeting will be a test of character for the city itself.
“How the community approaches the homeless is indicative of its character and our values,” he said.
Among the community members who plan to attend the April meeting is Alan Bernard, who operates a soup kitchen along Owings under the name Center Cross Ministries.
The soup kitchen currently operates out of a small brick building that is not outfitted to prepare food. Instead, the food is prepared at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and transported to the kitchen for service. It averages about 100 meals each day and 42,000 given out since the ministry formed nearly three years ago.
What Bernard would like to see come from these talks is a way for him to cook and prepare food on site for his clients.
“We like to think we just fly under the radar causing very little of a fuss,” Bernard said.
Bernard said some of the people who were displaced came to his kitchen for food and he has become close to many in the homeless community. While some were relocated to the new camp, others have moved closer to Sherman and some are living temporarily with friends, he said. Even with the camp dissolved, Bernard said Denison still has its homeless population. It is only a question of where.
“There will always be homeless, regardless of the number on that population sign,” he said.
What do you think are the best ways to address the region’s homeless problem? Let Michael Hutchins, the Herald Democrat’s Denison-area reporter, know at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mhutchinsHD on Twitter.