Union Gospel Mission plans to build facility for homeless families

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Union Gospel Mission chaplain Stanley Maneikis remembers the day a homeless family asked about getting a room at the agency’s campus.

When the family members learned that the wife and toddler would have to stay in a different building from the husband, they decided not to come.

“The man looked at me and said, ‘My wife and I love each other and we have gone through hell and we’re not going to be separated,’” Maneikis said. “They went back to camp. It was very sad because once we can take them, they’re on their feet quickly.”

With that scenario in mind, the mission announced Tuesday that it will build a facility with five rooms where two-parent families can stay with their children while getting back on their feet.

The Scott Walker Women and Families Services Building, named for a commercial real estate developer and mission volunteer, is scheduled to open in fall 2014.

Families have a strong desire to live together as they rebuild their lives, said Don Shisler, president and CEO of the Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County.

“It’s important,” Shisler said. “I truly think that they can work better together as a unit than when they are separated, because they draw strength off each other.”

While living at the mission, homeless clients work with the staff to acquire the tools, education and support they need to become self-sufficient.

Residents work with case managers to address factors that led to homelessness, including domestic violence, physical and mental health issues, and substance abuse. Clients stay an average of six months.

The 39,707-square-foot building will also include five rooms for single men who are caring for their children and 28 rooms for single women who are participating in the long-term program. A 12-bed overnight dormitory will be for single women who walk in on a daily basis, Shisler said. That brings the capacity for single women at the Union Gospel Mission to 68 beds.

Women are about 41 percent of the homeless population in Tarrant County. The mission gets 20 to 25 calls a day from homeless women who want to enroll in the program but have to be directed to other facilities because of a lack of space, Shisler said.

Tarrant County’s homeless population has grown 10 percent since 2011 to 2,390, and the number of people living unsheltered more than doubled to 281, according to results of a January count by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. The count found 338 homeless families with children, up from 292 in 2011.

A capital campaign for the $8.2 million project is underway. The mission raised $5.9 million, and the Oklahoma-based Mabee Foundation has pledged to donate the last $1 million when the mission raises $7.2 million. By September, officials hope to complete fundraising and launch the yearlong construction project, said Kimberly Godde, the mission’s development director.

Once the building opens, volunteers who come in to provide haircuts will have a salon, and clients can pray and meditate in a small chapel named for volunteer Suzie Murray.

And a new pantry will mean that cafeteria staffers won’t have to use carts and pickups to bring food across busy Lancaster Avenue from the current freezer and pantry.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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