United Way of Denton County officials were as clear as the sky Friday morning: If the nonprofit is ever going to truly serve all of Denton County, it needs more money and participation from businesses and other donors in the southern cities of the county.
And for those in the northern part of the county, such as Denton, the nonprofit said it needs more out of them, too.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” United Way board chairman Brandon McCleskey said. “There’s still a gap in funding.”
Business and government leaders huddled Friday morning inside the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center for a fundraising campaign kickoff breakfast, signaling what the public should expect from the United Way of Denton County in the months ahead.
“You guys are going to hear more and more about what United Way is doing in southern Denton County,” McCleskey said.
Moderated by United Way CEO Gary Henderson, a panel discussion involving people in government, nonprofits and education touched on several hurdles faced within the community. They talked about ways to identify and help the 29% of families in the county who are living paycheck to paycheck — those just one step away from being homeless.
“They probably don’t have any savings account, but they’re employed, trying to make ends meet,” said Roxanne Del Rio, the dean of student affairs and outreach at North Central Texas College. “And many of them are probably in this room. They probably cooked your meal. They probably waited on us this morning.”
Donna Barron, the city manager of Lewisville, said her city’s contribution to the United Way of a little more than $60,000 makes up more than half of all contributions from southern Denton County cities.
“That needs to change, big time,” she said.
For those who have already become homeless and are looking for a way to bounce back and land a place to rent, Denton Mayor Chris Watts called on the city’s landlords to offer up property to be converted into affordable housing units.
“In the end, if we don’t have a place where these people can go, where they can also receive support and care from people around them, it’s going to be difficult to continue to make headway,” Watts said. “Unless we have that, we are going to continue to slog along.”
The mayor pledged $2,500 of his own money to the nonprofit’s Barriers Fund. Danielle Shaw, the community development manager for the city of Denton, said the fund has allowed the nonprofit to house about 44 people who were at risk or who were living homeless.
County Judge Andy Eads said governments and businesses here need to prioritize building a strong framework to welcome immigrant populations to Denton County. After the panel, he said further that the powers that be need to provide these people with workplaces that need diverse skill sets and a wide range of wages; he said housing solutions need to be identified with immigrant communities in mind.
He said earlier in the panel that government and private organizations need to be thinking about the upcoming 2020 census and how they will participate in getting an accurate count of the county’s population.
“So many of the population the United Way and other agencies serve will likely be undercounted and under-reported,” Eads warned. “Put the census on the forefront of your mind. It’s critical for … everything we are doing to build a healthy, happy, sustainable Denton County.”
Denton police announced this week that its uniformed officers now carry naloxone, the drug that momentarily snaps people out of opioid overdose nearly as soon as it enters a patient’s body.
The drug, which Denton police can administer nasally through the name-brand version Narcan, is seen as something of a breakthrough in the fight against opioid overdoses.
But won’t it help the Denton police steer people toward the jail rather than toward recovery?
Patrol Sgt. Trent Jones, who has worked half of his 24 years with the Denton Police Department in narcotics, says that’s not at all what police here are trying to accomplish.
“We’re not looking to put cases on people,” he said.
Jones said Denton police have not seen a crisis level of overdoses from opioids such as fentanyl or heroin. But according to police reports, it is not uncommon for officers to find opioids, particularly pain pills, on people during traffic stops or arrests.
Opioid arrests and charges will still happen in general, across many situations. But the purpose of Denton police having Narcan is to potentially save people and get them help rather than bring them back to life to charge them with a crime, Jones said.
“You gotta help people,” he said.
Jones said it’s all too common for people to see a friend or family member experiencing an overdose and first try to hide their drugs or paraphernalia before calling the police.
He said if officers must use Narcan on an overdose victim, their priority will be saving the person’s life rather than arresting them or their friends. So people should not hesitate to pick up the phone and call 911 as soon as they think somebody is dying of an overdose, Jones said.
Besides, if you call 911 to report an overdose, paramedics are most likely to arrive first, because dispatchers route the fire department first on such calls.
The police are carrying Narcan now in the off chance they are the first to find a person suffering from an overdose, Jones said.
“I would feel helpless if I showed up and couldn’t help someone,” Jones said.
That’s part of the reason Jones says Denton officers have taken on the new task with a good attitude.
With help from Denton firefighters and the Flower Mound Police Department, Denton’s police field training officers began teaching street officers about how and when to administer Narcan this year.
As of early July, every uniformed patrolman, traffic officer, detective, school resource officer, community resource officer and parking enforcement officer with the Denton Police Department always has two 4-milligram doses of Narcan with them, Jones said.
He said it’s not the role of the police to make assumptions about people who are having an overdose crisis. Getting them to a hospital is the priority. But he said officers do have to be prepared for when a person comes out of the overdose.
Naloxone essentially stops an opioid from binding to the brain’s receptors, stopping the high and ending the overdose crisis. There are known cases in which a patient has become irate at that point and begins fighting officers, Jones said.
After the drug is administered, authorities must take them immediately to a hospital because its effects are only temporary. Further treatment is needed.