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Leadership teams in Denton County focus on homelessness, mental health

As featured in The Colony Courier-Leader on 7/27/2019 by Chris Roark...

The city of The Colony is joining the United Way of Denton County (UWDC) in its “better together” approach to helping residents.
Courtney Cross, director of homelessness initiatives for UWDC, recently updated the City Council on the organization's efforts to connect various stakeholders to help those in need.
In 2016 UWDC launched the Denton County Homeless Leadership Team and the Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team.
Cross said UWDC is working with other organizations across Denton County to share resources and information and align programs.
Cross said the goal of the homeless leadership team is to make sure every Denton County resident has a place to call home that is safe, affordable, accessible and supported by community resources.
She said The Colony is following similar trends from across the country.
“The number of people who are experiencing literal homelessness or at risk of being homeless continues to grow,” Cross said. “Our county is following trends across the country in terms of affordability becoming an issue. So we’re seeing a lot more families becoming on the brink of homelessness – living at a surviving wage, not able to live for three months if they lost their income.
“Denton County is expected to grow 350 percent in the next 30 years,” Cross said. “I know The Colony is feeling a lot of that growth. So what we’re trying to accomplish in this leadership team is to plan for the future – both in terms of what’s happening now to serve families that might find themselves in a housing crisis and on down the line as we continue to grow as a county and as a region. So the reason for this county-wide approach is so that we can really align with our neighbors.”
Cross said the homeless leadership team includes representatives from the county, the cities of Lewisville, Sanger and Denton and other smaller towns, as well as representatives from homeless/housing providers, law enforcement, healthcare providers, higher education, business leaders and community members.
“Rather than maintain homelessness our goal is systems change,” Cross said. “To do that we engaged with the folks that have decision-making power … to really mobilize resources.”
Further, she said the team is informed by “workgroups” that concentrate on shelter planning, data, affordable housing and the Denton County Homeless Coalition.
The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team features a similar structure and also works closely with various workgroups.
“It's all about systems change and helping all of our sectors talk to each other and increase access to behavioral health services for people across the county,” Cross said. “That's mental health services and substance use services.
They discuss topics such as veterans mental health access, the court systems and how to divert people from jail.
“Our No. 1. provider of mental health in our county is the jail system,” Cross said.
Cross said with various government agencies, businesses and organizations already involved, UWDC is looking to bring The Colony into the mix as well.
“We’re working hard to engage more councils and more groups throughout the county,” Cross said.
Mayor Joe McCourry said he supports the UWDC's effort to bring various groups together for a common cause.
“If we can get the system aligned so that everyone knows what’s going on then we can actually hold these folks up, put them in the programs that they need and get them the help that will help them get better,” McCourry said.
McCourry said this is a different than the single-agency approach municipalities often take when looking to help residents.
“I think this gives us an ability to start working as a group, especially here in the southeast corner of Denton County,” McCourry said, “to start pulling in more resources out of Denton County all the way up to Denton itself to see if we can have a better structured program to better help all of our citizens and our surrounding neighbors as well.”
Joe Perez, the city's director of community relations, said he plans to serve on the homeless committee, and a representative from the police department will serve on the mental health committee.