Advocates in Denison are looking for a place to bring together all of the city’s resources for the homeless. Representatives with the Homeless Empowerment Action Team plan to meet with city officials later this month to discuss three sites that could serve the organization’s needs.
The group was formed about four months ago by members of local churches and the Denison community with the goal of assisting the city’s homeless. Among the initiatives the organization has championed is the construction of a facility that can bring together different organizations and services as a hub.
Representatives for the organization have said progress has been slow, and city officials have expressed some concerns about building a facility.
“We are at a point where the city is going to have to work with us or we will have to move forward without their support,” HEAT representative Micah Riddick said.
Earlier this month, City Manager Jud Rex said that the progress has been slow, but said the last few months have been dedicated to understanding the issue. Rex described what he referred to as a “spectrum of homelessness” that included those in need along with those who chose to be homeless. He said that makes the situation complex.
“I don’t think we’ve found the answer yet, to be honest with you,” he said.
City officials said the topic of homelessness is expected to be addressed during Monday’s City Council meeting. Calls for a follow-up interview for this story were declined by the city.
The recent push to assist the homeless of Denison followed the disposal of a homeless camp near railroad property by the city in March. City officials warned residents of the camp that they would be enforcing trespassing regulations by the end of the month and violators faced being arrested.
“When they got the notices, they came here for help — ‘What do we do? Where do we go,’” Riddick said in April. As a part of her work, Riddick assists with Waples Memorial United Methodist Church’s homeless outreach.
Following the announcement by the city, members of several Denison churches began to collaborate on ways to assist the displaced homeless. This led a church to lease private property where a new camp was established. At the time, city officials gave organizers 30 days to disassemble the new camp. This led to both the creation of HEAT and conversations between advocates and the city on how best to address the city’s homeless situation.
While the replacement camp was only slated to remain open for 30 days, it remained open for nearly six months. The camp was officially shut down on Friday following issues with the misuse of electricity and resources and a lack of supervision, among others things, Riddick said.
In total, about 27 people lived at the camp.
“We need to have a better system in place before we can try to house these people,” Riddick said.
HEAT plans to present three possible sites to a city-organized steering committee later this month. The city could recommend moving forward with one of the options or offer an alternative plan.
The first location would be in the 300 block of East Main Street on the outskirts of downtown. Riddick said she favored this location as it is close to where many of the city’s homeless live and is centrally located.
However, the idea has received some push back from city officials due to possible development in the area and a large investment by the city on Main Street that is expected to begin next year, she said.
“They are hoping someone is going into the Traveller’s Hotel, so they did not want us there,” Riddick said.
The second location is located off of Morton Street near Family Video, while the final location is near the intersection of Armstrong and Martin Luther King, she said. All three locations are empty lots as organizers had difficulty finding a location that met their needs.
The ideal location would have about 5,000 square feet or space with room for a kitchen, laundry and showers with space dedicated to counselling and social work. Riddick said she would also like to have space for a resale shop that would be staffed by members of the homeless community as a way of making the facility self-sufficient.
In the long term, Rex said the city hopes to support “small but meaningful” initiatives aimed at addressing the targeted problem rather than wide-sweeping ideas that require heavy resources. Rex said he feared the by setting up a centralized location could have on the community, as it could attract people to the area.
“From the city’s perspective, we will support strategies that will reduce not grow the city’s homeless population,” he said. “So, we feel there is a lot of due diligence that needs to go in before setting up a one-stop shop.”