MAYOR

McKinney Nonprofit Working on Solutions to Homeless Camp Concerns

Not long after the sun rises, volunteers open the gate to a storage unit along State Highway 5 in McKinney where they provide a space for homeless people to store their valuables.

We would want to make sure people had a place to keep their things and feel secure about it. To the rest of the community: people wouldn't have to worry about things being stashed in their backyard, or front yard, or businesses, said Paul Ballesteros, who runs a faith-based nonprofit called Emmanuel Labor.

Ballesteros began renting the storage units in April, following a public outcry over homeless people camping at the Roy and Helen Hall Memorial Library in McKinney. In March, there were complaints about people using the bathroom behind a pillar on library grounds and storing household goods on the benches in the courtyard.

Ballesteros and a volunteer open the storage unit early in the morning and allow people to return later in the evening to pick up their items. The open Monday through Saturday.

People will go to appointments, they'll go to work and not have the burden of worrying about dragging everything with them that they don't need throughout the day, explained Ballesteros. It's to lighten the load and hopefully expand their range in whatever they hope to accomplish.

Ballesteros also offers long-term storage and vital document storage. Each client signs an agreement, giving permission for random searches and acknowledging rules that include no loitering outside the storage facility.

You really don't have to worry about your stuff getting stolen, you can go to work, you can go do whatever you're doing and not have to worry about it, said Michael Ostertag who was signing up for long-term storage on Wednesday.

Ostertag tag says he works in home remodeling and painting and currently camps out while saving money for an apartment.

Not everybody that's homeless is a bad guy or a drug addict or such. We're just trying to get back to where we were, said Ostertag.

Ballesteros says he also offers lunch and learn sessions once a week where he gives talks on topics that range from expectations from employers to avoiding unhealthy relationships.

The nonprofit provides mail service and help with filling out job applications. It serves as a mini-resource center at a time when the City of McKinney is considering establishing an actual resource center.

Mayor George Fuller says the resource center would offer a one-stop-shop for a homeless person to connect with staff who can help them get their ID, write resumes and set up an email address or phone number to find housing and work.

The center would not serve as a shelter or day center, according to the mayor.

The idea has drawn push-back from some who worry that a resource center would only act as a magnet, drawing additional homeless people from other communities to McKinney.

Jeff Williams, who stores his winter gear with Emmanuel Labor, insists the homeless population is growing anyway.

If you don't address that problem sooner, rather than later, it's going to get worse, said Williams. You have an economy that is strong, but you have wages that are weak. You get to the point that many people can't afford what they could afford a year ago.

Ignoring an issue doesn't change an issue, said Ballesteros.

Not doing anything right now, when we can get ahead of it, seems to be an unwise thing to do, added Ballesteros. I feel like we have a great opportunity to really address something beforehand.

Over the summer, Mayor Fuller formed a commission to look at the idea of a resource center. He says it is now considering using space at existing non-profits rather than establishing a new location.

The commission expects to give its recommendations to the city council by the end of the month.

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