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2 mayors to push on homeless tally

Chiefs hear coordination need by KARL RICHTER TEXARKANA GAZETTE | February 27, 2019 at 3:13 a.m.

The mayors of Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Ark., said Tuesday that they will do what they can to help synchronize the two cities' annual counts of homeless people.

Allen Brown, the mayor of Texarkana, Ark., and Bob Bruggeman, the Texarkana, Texas, mayor, agreed to contact state legislators and pursue coordinating the yearly censuses of the local homeless population. Their comments came during a meeting of the Joint Texarkana Community Committee, a bi-city panel of elected officials convened quarterly to discuss topics of mutual interest.

Arkansas and Texas agencies dictate the days on which their respective states conduct "point in time counts" of the homeless, generating statistics used to determine how much aid funding cities receive. Because many in the local homeless population frequently cross the state line, conducting the states' counts on different days can cause distortions in the data.

"We do have some duplicates," Maj. David Feeser, a local Salvation Army commander, told the committee.

Feeser was one of five speakers invited to explain the particulars of the local homelessness problem and what nonprofit and religious organizations are doing to help. The count issue was a recurring point.

"We need it to be accurate," said Alaina Marcum, chairman of the Texarkana Homeless Commission.

The most recent counts took place on different days during the same week in January, recording 63 homeless people on the Arkansas side and 120 on the Texas side. Counting on different days "makes it really hard" to have complete confidence in the results' accuracy, Marcum said.

Helen Diggs, manager of client development at Randy Sams' Outreach Shelter, spoke about programs there, including life skills and job training during the 90 days of emergency housing the shelter provides. Randy Sams' provides basic necessities and services such as helping people get government-issued identification.

Though there are "professional homeless people" who know how to work the system to their advantage, most residents at Randy Sams' "are trying to work our program," Diggs said, adding that communication among local service providers helps filter out people known to be problems.

Mission Texarkana is a faith-based relief agency that serves 59,000 meals a year and recently began a coffee-roasting business staffed by homeless people who learn job skills and get a piece of the profits.

An initiative of the Texarkana USA Chamber of Commerce, the Joint Texarkana Community Committee comprises Texas-side City Council members, Arkansas-side Board of Directors members and both mayors. It was formed in fall 2017 to share ideas and discuss challenges facing both cities but is not set up to take any action.

State Desk on 02/27/2019

Print Headline: 2 mayors to push on homeless tally


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