The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

August 14, 2013

Council gives support to homeless shelter

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council recognizes the benefit a homeless shelter could have for the city and Hunt County, according to a resolution of support for a county homeless shelter that was passed at the Tuesday council meeting.

The council voted 6-1 with Place 2 Councilmember James Evans casting the dissenting vote.

Sgt. Wes Trueblood, with the Salvation Army of Greenville, said he wanted the city’s support so he could streamline the process of the Salvation Army corporate headquarters looking into building a homeless shelter here.

“We’d like for two years to lease a building from the building to prove to you that this program has merit; it’s tenable, it works, and it will change and be effective in people’s lives,” he said. “And at the end of the day, when that two year lease is over, there’s an option for a 99-year renewing lease or to purchase the building for an amount to be determined. It allows both sides after two years to say whether or not this program is working and is in the best benefit of the City of Greenville.”

The Salvation Army has homeless shelters across the world that are designed with case-workers who work with individuals and families to develop the skills and budget capabilities to become productive members of society.

Various leaders across the county voiced their support for the shelter, and said the county has needed a shelter for a long time.

Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said he has a constant influx of homeless people in the county jail.

“Within the last 90 days we have had 80 prisoners who do not have a home address and are therefore classified as indigent inmates,” he said, adding that it costs the county $37 per night to house them. “If this trend continues, we’re looking at a projected cost of $11,840 per year. This figure does not include homeless people who suffer with mental illness who have to be transferred to a facility in Dallas to receive proper treatment.”

With the extreme heat in the summer and the freezing temperatures in the winter, Meeks said the sheriff’s department has an increase in people committing crimes so they can have a roof above their heads.

“I stand before this council tonight, encouraging you to take a serious look at placing a homeless shelter in Greenville, Texas. I am suggesting a location that will provide assistance to the homeless to become productive members of the community.”

Last year, 140 students in the Greenville Independent School District were identified as homeless. GISD counts homelessness as students whose families live two to three families in a singe-family household.

Melissa Bishop, who is spearheading a local effort to establish the New Found Hope Homeless shelter in Greenville, said the homelessness these children face affects their class work immensely.

“We know that six months of homelessness during the school year regresses a child by two grade levels,” she said. 

In a spirited speech, Hunt County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Andrew Bench said he sees homeless people get caught up in a system where they cannot pull themselves out.

“In reality it is a vicious cycle and I see it every day in my courtroom,” he said, adding that the problem is exacerbated when they are not able to afford the medicine to treat the disorder which drove them to homelessness in the first place. “Then they’re put back on the streets because they’re stabilized, and again they need a place to stay.”

Bench said the council should not need to consider whether a homeless person is deserving of help.

“I would say to you that if Jesus had only given mercy to those who deserved it, all of us would be in big trouble,” he said. “This is not a money issue; it’s a humanity issue.”

When Wally Jeffers became executive director of Hunt County Shared Ministries (FISH) six years ago, he said he originally saw 6,000 people a year coming for food or utility assistance. Since the Great Recession, he said there has been an exponential increase.

“This year we’re projected to serve over 50,000,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times every week I hear of families who are struggling to find a place to stay.”

Jeffers said the shelter would host classes for the people to learn how to budget and build skills to return to the workforce and provide for their families.

“We want to see people grow and become productive in our community,” he said. “And the only way that’s going to happen is if we work together to make sure we have a place for these families to go.”

Jeffers said he has seen first hand the need for a shelter.

“If you don’t think they’re out there, then come to my office tomorrow and see,” he said. “Families are really hurting out there.

Rev. Jimmy Vaughn of Authentic Life Fellowship echoed Jeffers words, and added the need is growing.

“We face a not so new, but ever increasing need in our community;,” he said. “It is undeniable that our community is touched by this at a never before seen level. I see the need daily.”

Some residents, including Carrie May, questioned why the Salvation Army would need to get the city’s approval to build a homeless shelter.

“As Christians, we’re all supposed to help with this,” she said. “It’s not done through the city, it’s done through private organizations working together.”

May said students need to be taught more about being self-sustainable.

“As Americans we have forgotten about pride,” she said. “Everybody has their hands out. They want someone to take care of their problems for them. We have got to teach our young people how to be responsible.”

Trueblood said the shelter would not be used as a hand out for residents, but to equip people with the skills necessary to return to the workforce.

“We will have professional staff who can give people the tools they need to become productive members of society,” he said.