North Texas

Third Homeless Death in a Year Prompts Community Action in Denton

Jan. 7, 2017, was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" for Denton homeless advocate Wayne Aleshire. That was the night he learned a third homeless person for whom he'd fought had died in the elements.

Richard "Turtle" Gaskin, 36, was found by another homeless person that night dead in a wooded area behind LA Fitness in Denton. That weekend was one of the coldest of the year, and Aleshire said between the weather and health issues, Turtle simply didn't survive that night.

"It just got to cold," said Aleshire.

Last October, Denton lost another homeless person during a violent altercation in front of a local shelter, and last spring a man sleeping beneath a bridge was swept away and drowned in flood waters in the city.

Aleshire, who's worked with the homeless as an advocate and non-profit leader for years, said Friday that the situation can't be allowed to continue as it is.

"You can almost say it's an epidemic," he said.

For years Denton has fought the uphill battle to improve conditions for the homeless population.

The city, led by Mayor Chris Watts, who was once homeless himself, has launched a homelessness task force and held several meetings and events to try to get more active in the fight.

Leaders with the task force said Friday that their latest initiative launched a pilot program this year to look at more effective ways to house and help the homeless along with creating a better strategy to address the issues in town.

However there have also been setbacks. Most notably, the city lost a large federal grant last year to address homelessness, forcing them to find ways to compensate for thousands of lost dollars in the fight.

Aleshire points to many successes in town, as well, like attempts to build more shelter space in Denton County and the growth of groups like Food for the Soul, which brings bagged food items to Denton children who are homeless or food insecure.

However he said there's still a lot of work to be done, so this Sunday at 5 p.m. his group, Bridging Hope, and several other local nonprofits will host an event called Together We Can Make a Difference.

Aleshire hopes to draw everyday community members to the event to help the local groups find solutions to helping Denton's homeless – ways to assist the city in their fight.

The event will be at the North Texas Collegiate Academy.

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