Killeen’s tent city is growing. And so is the number of questions surrounding the Friends in Crisis homeless shelter, which is closed temporarily because of a funding shortfall.

As temperatures continue to rise — along with the number of homeless people camped on the property — area residents are asking what can be done to get the shelter back up and running, as soon as possible.

According to Larry Moehnke, vice president of Families in Crisis, which oversees the shelter’s operation, the nonprofit will need $180,000 in order to reopen the facility. That’s roughly the amount of funding the organization is lacking after the loss of two grants in the space of five months.

Raising that amount, Moehnke said, will assure that Families in Crisis can confidently open the shelter again without concern that it may have to close again in the future.

Moehnke previously said it costs about $30,000 a month to operate the shelter. The combination of $180,000 in local funding plus anticipated grant money this fall would secure the shelter’s future, board members believe.

Certainly, that’s a legitimate strategy, and the shelter’s long-term viability and stability should be a top priority moving forward.

However, it’s reasonable to ask whether sticking to a hard-and-fast fundraising goal isn’t in some ways working against the shelter’s purpose — providing safe, secure housing to the community’s homeless residents.

Certainly, community members who have contributed to the fundraising effort have done so out of concern for the homeless residents who are caught in the middle of the shelter dilemma.

Donors who contributed in good faith have reason to be frustrated that their efforts haven’t produced any tangible results so far.

And while the long-term stability of the shelter is a goal that most donors would acknowledge as a high priority, their immediate goal is to help the homeless — not just contribute to a nest egg.

Yet for the time being, the shelter sits empty, while those who need it can only wait.

It’s more than a little ironic that the property on which the shelter stands has become a campground for homeless residents who desperately need its services.

Some tent city residents have run extension cords to the shelter’s outdoor electrical outlets, drawing power from a once-welcoming facility they can no longer enter.

What is most heartbreaking, however, is the fact that these tent dwellers have no available bathroom facilities and are forced to find discrete areas to relieve themselves in public.

Not only is this an affront to basic human dignity, but the lack of sanitary facilities threatens to pose a public health risk — both to the homeless and to the community at-large.

Families in Crisis officials have said that placing portable toilets on the shelter property would be problematic. Moehnke noted that they would likely require some supervision and that placing them behind the building likely would increase liability.

Moehnke also pointed out that it wouldn’t be feasible to open just a portion of the shelter as a sleeping area, along with access to bathroom facilities. He explained that bathroom areas are separate from sleeping quarters, which would require personnel to monitor. Also, mixed-sex sleeping arrangements would create legal issues.

Moreover, Moehnke noted that providing an air-conditioned sleeping area likely would draw more homeless individuals to the facility, which has a capacity of 75 people.

Still, it’s abundantly clear that something must be done to rectify the current situation.

Individuals, businesses, churches and organizations have stepped up in recent weeks.

For example, a downtown church pastor has taken it upon himself to grill food on site for the tent city residents.

Killeen City Councilwoman Shirley Fleming has initiated a project to make mats for the homeless to sleep on. Another city council member wrote a personal check for $5,000 toward the shelter fund.

But more must be done to bring an end to this difficult chapter in the city’s history.

For one thing, local governmental entities must commit to long-term funding of the shelter, at least at some level. Whether that entails carving out money from existing revenue or instituting a small fee to create a new revenue stream, it’s a necessary step in the process.

And it wouldn’t have to be burdensome. Adding $1 or even 50 cents to the city’s monthly utility bills would bring in significant revenue for shelter operations, while having little impact on ratepayers.

Civic clubs and organizations should consider making shelter contributions a regular part of their monthly budget, as this would be an excellent way to give back to the community.

Local churches also should play a significant role, either through regular financial contributions or through in-kind donations of food, clothing or volunteer help. Many already donate regularly to the Families in Crisis abuse shelter; the homeless shelter should be added to their list of dedicated charities.

Bottom line, whatever funding options are feasible should be considered.

The people who spend their nights camped out in tents downtown deserve better, as do other homeless residents scattered throughout our community.

It’s time to think beyond the bottom line and return some compassion to the situation.Whether that means opening the shelter before the funding goal is reached, digging deeper to provide the needed money, or both, it’s time to act.

For more than three years, the Friends in Crisis shelter did a commendable job of serving the homeless among us. Its closing dealt a harsh blow to those who needed a hot meal, a safe place to sleep — and a helping hand at a difficult time.

Over the past few weeks, the tent city on the shelter’s property has come to symbolize the unmet needs of the Killeen area’s homeless population — and collectively we are called to address those needs.

It’s up to our community to find a workable solution to what is quickly becoming a crisis — and to find it soon.

Failure to do so would be an indictment of us all.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

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