Several Denton City Council members said they welcomed a community group’s proposal to fill a gap in homeless services, but the proposal for a transitional community built around a tiny house village was not yet ready for prime time.
The nonprofit group, the Denton Basic Services Center, has approached city officials several times asking for land to fulfill its vision: a village to help people experiencing homelessness transition back into the community. They were back in front of the City Council during a work session Tuesday afternoon.
“Our goal is to get as many people off the streets as quickly as possible,” said Jane Piper-Lunt, the group’s president. “We are missing the place between the woods and permanent supported housing.”
“You need the transitional housing because some people are not ready for permanent housing,” she added.
Most council members agreed that the group identified a service gap that a tiny house village could fill. But the group’s proposal contained its own transitions that made several council members balk at the proposal otherwise.
The group needs city land to start, Piper-Lunt said. With a spot to begin, people who are homeless would be able to pitch their tent or park their car and begin building the village. If residents are involved from the beginning, that helps build the community and increases its chances for success, Piper-Lunt said.
City Council member Jesse Davis said he could support a basic service center — where people can store their belongings, shower and tend to other basic human needs — as well as a tiny house village. But he could not agree to set aside city land without a clear plan.
“Then it becomes a sanctioned encampment and I can’t get behind that,” Davis said.
Council member Gerard Hudspeth said he was concerned that the group has continued to approach Denton for land, especially since other Denton County cities are much further behind in providing services to people who are homeless.
“Why concentrate it?” Hudspeth asked. “Why don’t they advocate for it where we don’t have support?”
Both Davis and fellow council member John Ryan said it wasn’t clear how much money the group had raised so far to reach their goals to house 20 people in transition.
Council member Keely Briggs acknowledged the chicken-and-egg problem the group has had with trying to raise money for a project that currently has no home, but she didn’t want the effort to get shut down because of problems with the proposal. No one else in the community has stepped forward to address the gap, she said.
“We can think outside of this box,” Briggs said. “This is a group that can help us and it’s an opportunity to help many people.”
Mayor Chris Watts said he met privately with the group before to understand their proposal and had already expressed to them that he couldn’t support a tent village or one that would have people living in sheds without heat and air conditioning. He acknowledged he might need more help understanding what a “tiny house” is and isn’t.
“This is a vision, but it’s not a plan,” Watts said.
He isn’t opposed to a tiny village, he said, but the group’s plans need to be more thorough and show a track record, as other community partners have.
“Nobody needs the city to start a basic services center,” he added. “We’re not the gatekeeper [to homeless services].”
But he said he’s open to continuing the talks. The center’s first proposal last year triggered the formation of a work group that proposed that Denton fund more hours at the Monsignor King Outreach Center.
Beginning this fall, Monsignor King will open seven nights a week and offer additional social services to people coming to the shelter, thanks to nearly $500,000 in support from the city.
Council member Paul Meltzer proposed that the city formally change the charge of that work group to take up transitional housing.