Killeen is without a homeless shelter — at least temporarily.
That means that since the Friends in Crisis facility closed its doors Saturday morning, about 75 people have had to find a place to have an evening meal and a place to sleep.
Some of these people no doubt turned to the shelter for help just last week, only to be told that they would have to find other accommodations by the weekend.
The issue is money, or lack of it.
The shelter last fall lost a $200,000 annual grant that had helped to cover its costs since it first opened — about $30,000 a month, or $1,000 a day.
That cost figure may sound high, but it provides a lot — hot, nutritious meals for more than 75 shelter residents, showers, laundry service, cleaning crews and security, not to mention maintenance and utilities. In all, the shelter employs about 12 people to ensure the smooth and safe operation of the facility in downtown Killeen.
Since the shelter lost the grant in October, the shelter’s board of directors have been making adjustments and trying to come up with a workable plan to keep the facility functioning. But on Monday, they made the announcement none of them wanted to give: The shelter would close its doors this weekend.
The fact that the shelter’s employees are now out of work is another sad consequence of its closing. This is especially true, as one of the workers is a former shelter client. Other former clients have returned to work as volunteers because they wanted to make a difference for others.
And the shelter does make a difference in the lives of the homeless.
Since Friends in Crisis first opened in December 2015, it has provided more than just meals and sleeping accommodations to those in need. The shelter also offers residents counseling, help with budgeting and housing assistance, when qualified. In addition, the shelter provides assistance with job searches, including providing appropriate apparel for job interviews.
The need for the shelter has been apparent — and consistent. Over the shelter’s three-plus years of operation, it has averaged more than 70 residents per night. About 15% of the shelter’s clients have been veterans.
Obviously, the shelter’s latest clients, and those who otherwise would use the facility in the near future, will have to find other accommodations, if possible.
How long the shelter will be shuttered remains to be seen.
Families in Crisis, a nonprofit that oversees the shelter, has applied for several grants which only became available after the shelter had been in operation for three years. Larry Moehnke, vice president of the Families in Crisis board of directors, said he is confident the organization will be able to secure at least one grant by Oct. 1.
But four months is a long way off. Something can and must be done sooner to get the shelter reopened before then.
Moehnke said the board is looking to donations from civic organizations, churches, businesses and individuals that can bridge the funding gap in the near term. Even a pledge to fund one day per month, from various groups, would be a way to finance operations, he noted.
He said the board also may approach the city about entering into a partnership with Families in Crisis — a reasonable expectation despite Killeen’s tight municipal finances of late.
Some might argue that the city has done enough already — Killeen provided $510,564 in 2013 as part of a federal community development block grant to help pay for a complete renovation of the $1.4 million building, which used to be a church. The city provided an additional $250,000 in February 2014.
Indeed, the city’s role to date has been substantial and laudable. Still, homelessness is a problem that impacts the entire community, and to that end, the city should consider a sustained financial commitment to keep the shelter open and running.
Without access to the safety and security of the shelter, the city’s homeless population faces an increased risk of hunger, illness or becoming victims of crime, including sexual assault, Moehnke said.
Who are the homeless in our community? Forget the traditional stereotype of a bearded man pushing a shopping cart. While there may be some homeless individuals who fit this description, there are also mothers with small children, workers who have just lost their jobs and can’t pay rent, and those drowning in medical expenses, among others.
These people are our neighbors — and they could just as well be us.
A community’s character can be judged by how well it cares for its most vulnerable residents.
It’s time for the true character of our community to shine through again — as it did after the Luby’s massacre, the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and in caring for the many evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.
The fate of Killeen’s homeless shelter is a community issue — and a community challenge.
It’s a challenge we must face both collectively and individually.
The Friends in Crisis homeless shelter is a valuable asset, not just to those who are in need of its services, but to the local area as a whole.
For too many years, our city lacked the proper facilities to care for those most desperately in need of nourishing food and safe shelter.
Now that such a facility has been established, it’s up to us to see that it continues to serve the homeless among us — as it was intended.
The call has been issued; it’s up to us to answer it, as best we can.
Once we, as a community, succeed in reopening the shelter, we’ll sleep better at night, just knowing that those in need can rest securely as well.