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Denton shelter becomes county’s only 24/7, low-barrier refuge, but more funds are needed

A mural adorns a wall at the Denton Community Shelter, shown in 2022.
Ann Hatch
A mural adorns a wall at the Denton Community Shelter, shown in 2022.

Since it opened just over a year ago, the Denton Community Shelter on Loop 288 has become the only low-barrier 24/7 shelter for the county, as well as all of North Texas, Our Daily Bread Executive Director Wendy McGee told community members, volunteers and city officials at a Monday night community meeting.

With a population of more than 1 million people, Denton County has 44 communities, four of which were among the fastest-growing cities in 2022, according to a news release from the county last June. Those cities include Celina (38.8%), Haslet (31%), Argyle (20.3%) and Northlake (18.7%).

“We knew Denton County was close to surpassing this milestone,” Denton County Judge Andy Eads said last year. “With an estimated 86 people moving into Denton County every day, an additional 13,700-plus can be added to that total.”

Yet, the city of Denton is the only community helping to fund the shelter operated by Our Daily Bread, Together with Monsignor King Outreach Center.

To create the new shelter location, which opened in December 2022, the city paid about $570,000 to the architect and about $9.7 million to renovate the building. The funds were budgeted from council-approved bonds and $5 million in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan, according to an email from the city this week.

In August 2023, the city invested nearly $1.3 million in one-time federal aid from the American Rescue Plan.

Denton has also established a management and operation agreement that provides $400,000 annually to Our Daily Bread to manage and operate the Denton Community Shelter, according to the city.

“The city has been a wonderful partner,” McGee told attendees Monday night. “We need to get other governmental entities involved in helping to support, because we are serving countywide. We are serving Dallas as an overflow. Their numbers are high — we get their overflow. Tarrant County is the same way.”

Additional funding from the county and area cities, McGee explained, would help Our Daily Bread, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, hire more case managers and offer additional services to people in need at the shelter.

Denton County provided six grants for an estimated $285,700 as part of the CARES Act fund to Our Daily Bread from 2020 through 2021, providing meals, food truck services at motels and other similar needs, Community Relations Director Dawn Cobb said in an email Tuesday.

“Denton County Commissioners Court continues to be a partner with the City of Denton in funding the original concept of Our Daily Bread for over $3 million,” Cobb said.

Since 2020, Cobb said, the county has also provided 49,925 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables as part of its Feeding Denton County food box program.

Our Daily Bread, Together with Monsignor King Outreach Center serves an average of 600 guests monthly and more than 2,500 individual guests in a year, according to the shelter.

The day shelter operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the emergency shelter is open from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. year-round. A transitional shelter space is also offered for people who are employed.

There are 133 emergency shelter beds and 172 total emergency beds during inclement weather. A daily average of 155 guests seek shelter overnight, and they’re also starting to notice more younger people, McGee said.

“From the first day we opened, we have been over capacity,” she said.

Though they haven’t heard from area cities, McGee told the Denton Record-Chronicle that reaching out for their help is a priority this year. The nonprofit will do so through its board of directors and development team. They are focused getting in front of city, county and state officials to ask for support and educate them about the services the shelter offers and the number of people they are serving.

McGee said they are in the process of improving data collection and currently have an internal document that they use to report drop-offs from police departments and hospitals outside of Denton.

For example, on Tuesday, the Argyle Police Department dropped off someone, McGee said.

“Visually, we see regular drop-offs from municipalities throughout the county, but are not always able to record the information,” McGee said. “Many times people are dropped off, and we just catch a glimpse of the agency that dropped them pulling out of the parking lot. We have a good working relationship with Denton PD and are in regular communication with them and [the homeless outreach team].

“This is not the case with other PDs within the county.”

McGee said they would like for any medical transports or police drop-offs to be communicated prior to drop-off so Our Daily Bread staffers can make sure they’re able to accommodate any guests.

“At the least, we would like them to come in and let us know when they are dropping someone off at shelter to better understand how best to serve the guest that is being dropped off,” McGee said.

At the Monday night community meeting, Our Daily Bread also highlighted the first-year success of its services, all of which are free of charge.

“Our first year on Loop 288 has been transformative,” staff pointed out in one of several handouts offered at the meeting.

“It enabled us to extend our services to more guests, providing a safe haven for those experiencing homelessness. This location has become more than a physical space but a symbol of connectivity and compassion, where partner agencies can reach out to our guests, fostering a collaborative approach to address the multifaceted challenges of homelessness.”

Those services offered include:

  • Housing — 120 guests housed or diverted in 2023
  • Hygiene and clothing items provided — 88,344 items provided in 2023
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Mental health services — 2,004 services provided in 2023
  • Accessing identification documents and Social Security benefits
  • Religious and medical services
  • Transportation, such as bus and GoZone passes
  • Haircuts
  • Communication center and computer lab access
  • Work training program — 67 participants
  • Showers
  • Storage for personal items
  • Mail services
  • Space for pets

McGee also praised and thanked Our Daily Bread’s partner agencies that have helped to make the wraparound services and the new shelter a successful endeavor. The list of partners that help those in need is long and includes the city as well as organizations such as the Denton County Friends of the Family, Denton County MHMR and Denton County Public Health.

Health Services of North Texas, Texas Health Resources, TWU Occupational and Music Therapy and United Way of Denton County were also listed among the many other partner agencies that also include churches, recovery programs and veteran assistance.

Two other partner agencies listed — Tarrant Area Food Bank and Denton Community Food Center — no doubt helped the shelter to serve 238,913 meals served last year.

Our Daily Bread also clocked 44,375 volunteer hours last year, though more volunteers are needed in several different areas, including:

  • Food service
  • Hygiene
  • Laundry
  • Garden
  • Mail
  • Administrative
  • Group projects
  • Janitorial

And while Our Daily Bread could use contributions from area cities, it could also use more donations, not just financial but also essential items. Those items include: twin bedding, towels, cleaning supplies, wash cloths, underwear, clothing and canned foods.

Some personal success stories of people who have gone through the Ready for Work program were also shared. The program seeks to offer personal and professional training and access to a case worker and a job coach.

Testimony from a guest named Kenneth was also offered on a handout Monday. He sought help from the shelter 13 months ago for addiction and homelessness and became part of the Ready for Work program. He called Our Daily Bread his “lifeline, surpassing the assistance of other places.”

He is now on track to reunite with his family.

“Within Our Daily Bread, I found genuine support from staff and fellow quests,” Kenneth said in his testimony. “They become like your family. The relationships steered me away from trouble and ensured I had access to the services I needed to be successful.”

It’s programs like these that Our Daily Bread, Together with Monsignor King Outreach Center wants to continue to offer and expand to help more people like Kenneth who find themselves at a crossroads battling homelessness.

Federal estimates reveal that homelessness is an issue that rose last year across nearly every demographic group, according to a Jan. 11 report by The Texas Tribune.

“We feel like with us serving the entire county, we need more support from the county and surrounding communities,” McGee told attendees Monday night. “We always welcome anyone to come into our organization regardless of where they come from.”