Members of Denton’s homeless population are shocked by the death of a well-known transient resident last weekend.
Manuel “Manny” Abrego, 53, was killed early Saturday morning when storm waters rose quickly in a downtown flood canal. Investigators said Abrego and another homeless woman were sleeping under the bridge at Bell Place and McKinney Street when the canal flooded and swept them away.
A Denton police officer was able to rescue the woman, Teresa Kelly, who he found screaming just downstream from the bridge, but Abrego was gone.
At about 10 a.m. Saturday, swift water rescue teams finally recovered his body near Loop 288.
Since then, a make-shift memorial made up of debris, some small trinkets, and an old bible has been built next to the Bell Place Bridge by Abrego’s fellow homeless residents, several stopping by Wednesday to reflect.
Across the street at the Zera Coffee Company, a non-profit shop that works to help Denton’s homeless, several people who’d crossed paths with Abrego over the years sat down to plan some sort of memorial for him.
Another homeless resident, Richard Black, recalled meeting Abrego in late 2013 and becoming friends with him during their time in the city.
"Manny'd give the shirt off his back to a complete stranger,” said Black.
Black said Abrego would frequently stay with other homeless residents camped out in the woods near North Lake Park, where he’d often be the first to lend a hand to someone in need.
"If people in camp were hungry, they didn't have no money, Manny would go up there on that Square, he'd panhandle and he didn't care if the cops were there,” said Black.
Wayne Aleshire from the non-profit, Road to Damascus, recalled seeing Abrego on Wednesdays at Amazing Love Ministries where he’d come for supplies. This week was one of the first he didn’t show.
Aleshire said he’s seen the homeless population on a seeming rise in the city over the past few months, especially since the closure of Tent City earlier this month in Dallas. His hope is that Abrego’s death will serve as a wake-up call for residents and leaders in Denton to start taking more action, and soon, to combat homelessness in town.
That has been a big focus for Denton Mayor Chris Watts since taking office two years ago.
Watts said Thursday that, since running a task force on the issue, the city has worked with the United Way to hire a homelessness coordinator and is now working with the county to expand efforts across the Denton County area.
The city also recently entered an agreement to start leasing the old animal shelter to the Monsignor King Outreach Center to begin sheltering more homeless people in the city.
"Make sure we don't have those things happening, people sleeping under bridges,” said Watts. "The tragic accident a couple days ago, it just confirms the need to continue to pursue those options."
Meanwhile, several of those homeless non-profits and owners at Zera have set up a vigil to remember Abrego, and they plan to continue working to hold some sort of memorial for him.
The vigil is scheduled for 8 p.m. in the Zera Coffee parking lot on McKinney Street Thursday night.