Living United

From left: Gary Henderson, Donna Barron, Andy Eads and Laura Behrens sit on a panel of community and city leaders to discuss combating homelessness.

Homelessness and income stability are growing issues in Denton County, and local leaders are calling on their communities help tackle these problems. 

These leaders spoke in a panel discussion as the United Way of Denton County’s Kickoff Breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in Lewisville and explained that combating poverty is a regional effort. 

“Homelessness is a county wide issue,” said Lewisville City Manager Donna Barron. “It’s very important that we all own this problem together.”

Leaders called on all of Denton County, especially the southern part of the county, to help support the United Way in its mission. 

“The southern part of Denton County is in the United Way of Denton County, not only our service area but our donation area,” said Denton County Judge Andy Eads. 

Barron said over 50 percent of the contributions that came in from southern Denton County came from Lewisville. 

 “...I don’t want to be over 50 percent next year, I want all of you to have active campaigns and encourage your employees,” Barron said. “It doesn’t matter the size of the gift. Every employee needs to understand what it means to Denton County to have these agencies.” 

Laura Behrens, a volunteer with the United Way of Denton County, said the organization has made tremendous strides, but it still needs more funds. 

“We still have 40 percent gap in funding,” she said. “We need that final component of the community to help fill that gap.” 

According to the United Way of Denton County, approximately 1,200 people experience homelessness in Denton County yearly, and about 50 percent of people representing homelessness are working in some capacity.  

United Way identifies people who are working but still barely able to make ends meet as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE). These families are one crisis away from becoming homeless. 

“They represent about 29 percent of our Denton County families, and they include our senior citizens,” said Roxanne Del Rio, dean of students and outreach at North Central Texas College. “They live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have any sort of savings account but are trying to make ends meet.” 

It has become difficult for ALICE families to stay in their homes. The panel’s discussion shifted to just how unaffordable housing has become in many cities. 

“I would have told you at one time that we have ample affordable housing in Lewisville,” Barron said. “I can’t tell you that today because the cost of housing has escalated so dramatically.” 

Denton County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, and with that growth more housing is needed. Lewisville Councilman TJ Gilmore said the Lewisville City council has set aside funding in its upcoming budget to conduct a housing study. 

“We can take that data and look it at from a county-wide perspective. Are we doing the right things to make sure as we continue to see this explosion boom we’re going to be doing the right things to match the housing that’s getting built?” Gilmore said. “…How do we put that net under people so they can get back into the workforce?” 

Economics are changing in North Texas and anyone could face poverty. United Way hopes to keep people housed and making livable wages, but it can’t do that without the support of community partners. 

“It’s so critical that we all step up to the plate and we all help support and solve this huge problem,” Barron said. 

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