Homeless advocates in Denison are one step closer in their mission of creating a hub for services aimed at the city’s homeless population. Representatives with the Homeless Empowerment Action Team said they expect to close on the purchase of a former Lions Club building on West Crawford which they plan to use to bring many resources together.
The building, with its bright yellow exterior, has remained vacant for several years, but organizers said they hope to give it a new purpose.
"HEAT, in its second year of helping the less fortunate, will be remodeling the facility to provide showers, laundry, life skills coaching, ID assistance and job searches," President Barbara Bailey said. "This is the only facility providing showers and a laundry facility to Denison’s homeless population and those homes without electricity or water."
HEAT formed last year from a loose collection of homeless advocates and local ministries aimed at assisting the area’s homeless and those in need. The group initial came together following the removal of a homeless camp outside downtown Denison. They joined together to localized efforts in finding a long-term solution for homelessness within the city.
Initially, organizers with the group planned to find a location to open a long-term camp for those in need, but these and other plans receive some push back from the city.
Over the last year, Bailey said HEAT has been looking for a property that could be used to provide services. The Crawford Street building was chosen due to its centralized location along with its lower cost.
"We were looking at a lot of facilities, but they were all three times the expense of this one," Bailey said.
The group plans to outfit the building with three showers, washers and dryers. Plans also call for a computer station where visitors can write resumes, perform job searches and acquire identification and other needed documents.
"We will have tables in that facility, and it will be a very open floor plan that will allow us to have a money management seminar, if we so desire," she said.
The location will also allow HEAT to partner, center cross ministries, who operate a soup kitchen in the same neighborhood. Center Cross has worked with the homeless since 2016 through several soup kitchen locations around downtown.
When HEAT approached the city about using the former Lion’s Club building, Bailey said the city asked them to canvas the neighborhood for opinions on the development. One of the concerns that was raised related to having two similar operations in the same neighborhood.
"With that in mind, we were able to work with the city and give them the results of our neighborhood canvas," Bailey said. "We were able to agree that having one location instead of two was best for everyone involved and that’s how we arrived at getting the soup kitchen involved with us."
Bailey noted that the site will not be able to house the homeless, but said it is one step toward long-term goals.
"We always had phases that we were going to go through," she said. "The belief through that not only we have done but HUD has done has found that housing them gives them the benefit of safety, getting out of the elements ... but for us that has to be perhaps a phase two or phase three. Right now, I don’t think the city of Denison would buy into that."
Despite HEAT closing in on a building, Bailey said there is still work that needs to be done on the facility, and HEAT hasn’t raised enough funds to fully finance renovations yet.
"Our plan is to use a lot of volunteers from the churches partnering with us and being able to use donated items that are in good condition," she said, noting that some professional work will need to be done.
Despite previous concerns about a creation of a centralized hub for the homeless of Denison, city leaders voiced their support for the most recent effort to provide assistance.
"Consistent with the homeless position resolution approved by the city council last year, the proposed facility represents an incremental step forward in meeting the needs of the homeless and under served in Denison, without stretching available community resources," City Manager Jud Rex said in an emailed statement.
"The facility will provide showers and laundry facilities, which is a specific identified need in the community. In addition, the City is encouraged by HEAT pursuing further partnership with Center Cross Ministries to distribute food and meals to those in need out of the new facility. Partnering to combine services and facilities is a tremendous step forward. The City will continue to support small, meaningful strategies and actions that will reduce, not grow, the homeless population."
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.