Leaders from Denison churches and other community leaders recently came together to discuss the city’s homeless problem in hopes of finding a long-term solution. The meeting came nearly two weeks after more than 120 members of the Denison community gathered to learn about proposed initiatives aimed at aiding the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The meeting served as a precursor to the formation of a steering committee to explore options, including the possible creation of a centralized location aimed at bringing together multiple homeless services under the same roof.
“Together we have come up with the idea of a steering committee that will bring some of the city leaders with some of the leaders that are coming out of this group,” Waples Memorial United Methodist Church’s the Rev. Cheryl Murphy said. “So, we are hopeful that with all of us working together, we can really cast a vision that isn’t just a quick Band-Aid fix.”
For this meeting, the nearly 65 people, who included city staff and members of the City Council, split into groups to answer a series of questions regarding the city’s homeless and the services that are provided in Denison.
Micah Blevins, missions & outreach coordinator for Waples, said the next step will be to nominate members who will serve on the proposed steering committee. Blevins said she hopes local church leaders and volunteers, including herself, will make up about half of the seats, while the remaining seats would be appointed by the city.
Blevins said she was still working to finalize her list of nominees, but no names have been decided other than herself. She said the city has spoken with her about its nominees, but those names have not been made public.
“The issue of homelessness in Denison is an important one in which the city will continue to be engaged,” Sunny Mackey, Denison director of community engagement, said Friday via email. “It is a community issue that can only be solved by the community.”
One of the options for a permanent hub for homeless services could be the former Veterans of Foreign Wars post, which closed in 2015. Blevins said she has approached the owners of the property who are willing to lease it for this use.
Blevins said she would also like to explore how the city can assist in the efforts. As an example, Blevins said she would like to see whether assisting with local homeless causes could be included as a requirement for city incentives.
On topic discussed at the recent meeting related to what the attendees knew of the ongoing problem and the city’s people who make up the homeless population.
Daniel Bruce, who attends Victory Life Church, said he attended the meeting to find opportunities for his congregation to give back to the community. Bruce said he has volunteered in the past with Center Cross Ministries, a soup kitchen that has been working within the city for the past few years.
“I really don’t know the situation,” he said. “I know the city is really trying to revamp and bring in more businesses and new people so I can see the problem. I really don’t know the answer.”
Father Don Perschall, from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said the homeless come in many different forms. There are some who truly are homeless while others come in the form of teenagers who “couch surf” from home to home.
“These kids couch surf and they don’t want to be seen as a part of this,” he said.
Other topics included what services are not provided in Texoma and the limitations of existing services. Contrary to common belief, the food and clothing needs of the area homeless are met, primarily through the efforts of many area ministries and programs, Hong Stumpff, who works with the Homeless Empowerment Action Team, said. However, she said it might be difficult to bring these different programs together at the same location.
“I am not sure you can get the seven or eight providers to come together because that is their ministry,” she said.
Other limitations include a lack of medical services and job skills training that can help some obtain employment and ultimately a permanent home. Other concerns included the limitations on organizations like the Grayson County Shelter, which primarily focuses its efforts on women and families. Younger men, and individuals with a criminal background, can have a harder time finding assistance, organizers said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mhutchinsHD on Twitter.