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Tyler volunteers call on churches to help homeless population

Texas homeless encampments ban begins September 1st
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 6:53 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2021 at 11:22 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - In less than two months, some people who are homeless will have to find a new place to stay or they could face legal consequences.

When House Bill 1925 comes into effect on September1st, homeless camps in unapproved public places will be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine. The new law will apply to anyone with shelter like tents or beds in an unapproved public area, or if they show signs they plan on living in the area for a while.

This new law will also require law enforcement to advise homeless people with camps of where they can legally stay. Tyler police Chief Jimmy Toler, said the department knows the ban is coming, so they’re beginning the process now.

“There are some things written into the law that require that we can’t just ignore this law, that we have to take action, but we don’t want to do that, we’re hoping we’re able to deal with it before then,” said Chief Toler.

The last thing the department wants to do is get to the point where citations are piled on top of the list of problems homeless people are already facing, Chief Toler added.

So in recent weeks they’ve been working more closely with volunteers and nonprofits to get ahead of September. Especially with people like Callynth Finney, who’s known as the Mother of the Tyler Street Team.

Finney helped spearhead the Tyler Street Team back during the February winter storm when she managed thousands of dollars in donations toward getting homeless people out of the cold and into hotels.

“I think that everybody wants what’s best for the community, but what we have to remember is that the homeless are a part of the community,” said Finney.

The Tyler Street Team is a group of volunteers who donate and help those experiencing homelessness. Finney doesn’t like to think of it as a group or organization, she said she’d rather look at it as a culmination of individuals in the community who step up to help out in a time of need.

Although they have boots on the ground helping these people everyday, she said they’ve only scratched the surface.

According to Finney and Chief Toler there are about 200-300 people experiencing some form of homelessness in Tyler. According to Finney, “the majority we don’t have answers for, and we don’t know what’s going to happen come September 1st.”She says ultimately they want every church to commit to two years so that these people can have a strong foundation of people to help.

She said she believes they’ve found an answer for everyone. The Tyler Street Team created a new case management program called Adopt-A-Neighbor.

This program calls on local churches to help transition these people.

“The churches outnumber the amount of people experiencing homelessness,” said Finney, “it involves about 10-15 parishioners from each church who are willing to be friends with this person, and to take on one small part of their life.”

The goal is for churches in the area to start by adopting one person experiencing homelessness. The volunteer parishioners will be in charge of helping the person with things like learning new skills, managing finances and medical appointments, and simply building a sense of community.

“They really need personal relationships and that’s something we’re hoping to find in the churches,” said Finney.

There are less than 5 churches involved in the Adopt-A-Neighbor program right now.

She said ultimately they want every church to commit to two years so that these people can have a strong foundation of people to help them back on their own two feet. According to Finney, church participation is their only hope in getting the most people help off of the streets and Chief Toler says he hopes the program is a success.

“We have a large church base in Tyler and I’m hoping they come forward to deal with this because it’s going to take this city and this community to deal with this situation,” he said.

If you’re interested the adopt a neighbor program or in learning how you can help, you can visit TylerStreetTeam.org.

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