Lewisville contributes $200,000 towards homeless assistance to help fill void left by lost grant

The Salvation Army Lewisville Service Center offers free lunch to the community at noon on weekdays. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

Homeless programs in Denton County recently lost a $600,000 emergency solutions grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For the Denton County Friends of the Family, a shelter that focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, it means losing about half of its operating funds. For Christian Community Action, which provides comprehensive services to the poor and works to keep people from losing their homes, the loss of the grant created a deficit of $90,000, which was used to provide assistance and promote stability. For Giving Hope, Inc., which helps those experiencing or are at risk of homelessness, it means cutting rental assistance. The emergency solution grant funded 37 percent of the organization’s total expenses.

The three groups are cutting jobs and reducing full-time positions to part-time ones, Denton County Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell reported. Mitchell is part of the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever get rid of homelessness but I think with us all pitching in to help, we can help alleviate some of it,” Mitchell said.

The emergency solutions grant provides funding for homeless efforts related to shelters, services, preventative measures and rehoming, according to HUD. The main reason the grant was lost is due to the limited affordable housing available in Denton County, Mayor Pro Tem TJ Gilmore said.

Organizations who received the money are working to get replacement grants but it’s going to take a year to make it happen, he said.

To help with the financial gap, the City of Lewisville has allotted $165,000, based on Lewisville’s population, of the 2016-17 budget to contribute to local homeless programs. The council approved up to $200,000 if records prove a spike in residents.

“Here we are in an economy that’s doing pretty well and it’s pretty easy to think that folks who are homeless now have chosen to be homeless,” said Gilmore, who is also a part of the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team. “The reality is that there are a lot of ways you can become homeless that people don’t realize.”

Gilmore said homelessness is a continuum, from a person who is one apartment payment away from eviction to somebody with mental health issues that impede their work abilities. He said a person in this situation could be suffering from drug addiction or from an abusive situation.

“The number one thing to remember is that having a police officer handle the homeless is probably the most expensive way you can deal with it,” Gilmore said. “We really need to look at how can we effectively manage our limited budgets by providing resources for these organizations that specialize in it.”

Denton County is providing $35,000 from its general funds to the grant loss. The City of Denton is contributing $200,000, Mitchell said.

“One of the things that people forget is that homelessness affects everybody,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we close our door thinking that because we’re not homeless, that it doesn’t affect us but it does.”

Director of Operations Stephen Thomas at the Lewisville Salvation Army says the clothes donated are either gently used or freshly bought. He said their clothing program follows a "dress for success" mantra that aims to help people get a job. (Photo by Steve Southwell)
Director of Operations Stephen Thomas at the Lewisville Salvation Army says the clothes donated are either gently used or freshly bought. He said their clothing program follows a “dress for success” mantra that aims to help people get a job. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

Shane O’Neil calls Lewisville his home but he doesn’t have a physical home to go to.

He’s been going to the Salvation Army Lewisville Service Center for about two months now to get a morning shower and lunch during the week. He’s going to AA but said it’s not helping.

“I have no business being in the shape I’m in to tell you the truth. Maybe I’m grieving my parents too much,” O’Neil said of his parents, who died two years ago.

O’Neil’s said his truck was repossessed and little by little his livelihood has gone downhill. “I need to get back to work.”

The center, which was also affected by the grant loss, has provided O’Neil with a bike along with other assistance.

“They love me here for some reason,” he said. “There’s times when they’ve gone way out of their way.”

O’Neil said he tried on a pair of size 13 shoes the center had but they did not fit. He left and came back. Somebody had gone to Walmart and bought him size 14 shoes.

Director of Operations Stephen Thomas said the Salvation Army in Lewisville has 260 volunteers and four paid workers. He said they serve 200 plus people a day, whether they are low income or homeless.

“Last month, we had six people get a job who were homeless. The month before was 15. The month before that was ten,” Thomas said.

The center offers employment assistance, a garden program, clothes, toys, food and books to those in need. It gave 4,600 items of clothing to people last month, Thomas said.

“You’ve got to have outcomes, you’ve got to have solutions and you’ve got to have progress,” Thomas said. “I feel a responsibility that I’ve got to have a program that’s worthy for somebody to say, ‘Yes, you deserve this grant.’”

The center allows people to shower from 8 to 9:30 a.m., to eat a hot meal from noon to 1 p.m. and to cool down with a fan and ice water around 4 p.m. on weekdays. It is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
Thomas said he is working on getting a homeless shelter in Lewisville.

“We don’t have a shelter here. We have one in Denton,” Thomas said. “There’s no shelter here, so that’s a hardship for sure.”

Thomas said he sees 20 to 30 of the same homeless people everyday. He said he received a call at 3:15 Wednesday morning from an officer about two people loitering on the center grounds. The officer asked him to tell the two on speaker phone that they were trespassing and that this was a warning. “Where do you think they’re going to go?” Thomas said to the officer. “They don’t have a place to sleep.”

“I’ve got 150 homeless files, homeless client files, so it’s a problem,” he said. “You’ve got to serve one at a time. You can’t have an institutional approach and think you’re going to have these great outcomes.”

Those wishing to donate groceries to the center can call 972-353-9400 to see what the center is in need of, as the list changes day-to-day. The service center is also looking for more children’s books for their take-a-book-leave-a-book program.