There are not many good days for those who are living on the streets, except for, perhaps, their last day.
It has been just over a year since Shaunna Thornton spent her last day on the streets, as a homeless person living in McKinney.
That stint began when the man she was in a relationship with at the time was jailed.
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“It was rough,” Thornton said, looking back on that time. “It’s hard to feel safe when you are homeless. You don’t feel like you have a safe place to go.”
That changed for Thornton in May 2020 when she was approached by two police officers with the McKinney Police Department’s Community Services unit, a portion of the department dedicated to crisis intervention and homeless outreach.
“What happened with Shaunna, that was like being at the right place, at the right time, on the right day,” said Ofc. Terry Qualls. “It was a perfect opportunity for us to step in and help her out.”
Qualls and his partner, Ofc. Russ Harrison, were able to make contact with a sister of Thornton’s in California who was surprised to learn about how and where her sister was living. A second sister, who lives in New Hampshire, was willing to take Thornton in.
So, Qualls and Harrison saw to it that Shaunna Thornton could stay in a hotel for the weekend until her scheduled flight, and they even traveled with Thornton to Dallas Love Field and waited with her until it was time to board.
“We just we are blessed with the opportunity to be able to really focus on this specific [homeless] issue and we can spend all of our time really coming up with unique solutions to complex problems,” said Harrison.
The McKinney Police Department’s Community Services Unit is comprised of three officers, including Terry Qualls and Russ Harrison, a Crime Victim Advocate, and a recently added civilian Mental Health Coordinator position, according to a department spokesperson.
Harrison estimated that his unit has helped approximately 100 homeless people make contact with their family, but said that he has only been able to successfully help two of them to reunite in real life, which makes Thornton’s situation very memorable.
For her part, Thornton is grateful to still be living with her sister in New Hampshire. She said that she has a retail job that she loves and that she was recently approved for a car loan.
As for the officers who went above and beyond to help lift her out of her situation last year, Thornton said she was still very grateful.
“It is like an answered prayer. It is like a sigh of relief when you are just stressed, you are sleep deprived, you are tired, you are hungry,” Thornton said. “It is literally like something that you’ve prayed for, even quietly. And you pray and pray, and then all of a sudden your prayer is answered. That is literally what it feels like.”