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July 17, 2013

Helping the homeless

With the closing of Rubbermaid in 2012 and Covidien leaving Commerce at the end of the year, the Great Recession has had a profound impact on residents of Hunt County.

The Great Recession has also caused the face of homelessness in America to change drastically.

Families now make up 34 percent of the homeless population. And, according to Jerry Speight, executive director for the Hope Center, Hunt County has not been immune to the recent surge.

“It’s been obvious for a number of years,” he said. “I couldn’t begin to tell you how many people who we’ve helped pay bills.”

Speight said, since there is no full-time homeless shelter available in Hunt County, he has nowhere to refer families or individuals.

“I just have to say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have a place I can send you,’” he said. “It’s difficult to send them away when you have no ability to help them.”

Speight said with the Hope Center, Hunt County Shared Ministries, the Salvation Army, Women in Need and other service organizations, the county has “tremendous agencies helping people here.”

“But those all serve specific purposes and it’s not meeting the needs of the homeless.”

According to recent estimates, there are approximately 300 homeless people in Greenville.

To help meet the growing need, Melissa Bishop is planning on opening a shelter in Greenville, with the help of the community.

Armed with a Facebook page and a desire “to do something more meaningful,” Bishop will speak before the Greenville City Council alongside Salvation Army Sgt. Wes Trueblood on July 23 to discuss a possible location for a full-time homeless shelter.

“There are different locations I have considered,” she said. “All need considerable work to be up to city code.”

Wally Jeffers, executive director of Hunt County Shared Ministries (FISH), said he would like to see a shelter much like the Samaritan Inn in McKinney, because of its focus on families and teaching life-skills.

“A family shelter is what we desperately need,” he said. “I’m looking for a place where a family who is really struggling can come to get back on their feet.”

The Samaritan Inn is a non-profit shelter that focuses on teaching individuals and families classes on budgeting and job training, and offers support programs such as legal and financial counseling and mental and physical health services.

The number of people coming to FISH for assistance is up by 61 percent this year, which highlights the need for the community to work together to help struggling families, Jeffers said.

“I’d like to see something that we all get and work together on,” he said, adding he wants to see a comprehensive plan between agencies to see “how can we work cooperatively to meet their needs. It works better for all of us.”

Speight said he gets calls from churchmembers all over Greenville looking for ways to help the disadvantaged. He said that’s not surprising, considering the teachings in the Bible.

“Scriptures talk about Jesus not having a place to lay His head, so it’s not surprising that He would have compassion for what we would call economically disadvantages,” he said. “In His earthly ministry He had a heart of compassion for those that were hurting.”

According to Speight, the problem isn’t going to be solved in the short term, but will take a community effort to help people in need.

“There is a need for a human being to come for shelter, safety, food and a place for help,” he said. “The need is always going to be there.”

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