An Invisible Crisis

Imagine the average suburban family next door, the one that occasionally creates twinges of jealousy in you. Their life seems perfect, until a bizarre dog attack puts their son in the hospital. Neighbors rally around them, but after a few weeks, the offers of support dwindle to a drip. They assume normalcy has returned. Several months later, the family abruptly packs up to move, and everyone expresses surprised goodbyes. With an elaborate story to match their Hollywood smiles, the family drives away without anyone knowing they have just become another homeless statistic in Collin County.

Nearby, a teenage boy works hard at a local fast food restaurant, always showing up on time and always offering to work until closing time. His grades are slipping, but not enough for anyone to notice. His backpack, always overloaded, depicts a studious kid lugging his schoolwork home, but he heads straight for work instead. After a full shift, he locks up for the night, takes a quick scrub in the restroom and climbs up to the roof to sleep. It might be cold, but it is safer. He knows the wild animals and his father’s unpredictable wrath cannot reach him there. At dawn, he repeats the process with another early start at school. His ingenuity and masterful rotation of clothes prevents anyone from knowing he is another homeless statistic in Collin County.

On the other side of town, in the dead of night, a woman creeps out of her house with a single bag and a bundle tucked in her coat. Careful not to let the door click as she closes it, her heart pounds as she makes her escape from years of abuse. Her first stop is the hospital, where her baby can get fed and her fresh wounds can be assessed. In the world of domestic violence, she is a minority who has succeeded in escape, but the road to independence is tough. Working two jobs to pay for the medical bills, she has not found a way to fill the childcare gaps, dig herself out of the mountain of bills and find a way to leave the shelter. She is another homeless statistic in Collin County.

This is only a glimpse of homelessness in our county. Unlike the stereotypical beggar under a bridge, it is often invisible to the general public. It is easy to assume the problem does not exist.

In 2004, Pat Evans, the mayor of Plano at the time, tasked Stacy Brown, the current housing grants manager for the City of Frisco, with researching homelessness in Collin County.

As a result, Ms. Brown co-founded and now chairs the Collin County Homeless Coalition (CCHC) to increase awareness about and to find solutions for homelessness in the area. Participants in the coalition include Collin College, homeless service providers, businesses, advocates, faith communities and the cities of Frisco, Allen, McKinney, Plano, Wylie and their school districts. Meetings occur monthly, every first Thursday, at Plano City Hall, from 9-11 a.m. Membership is free and guests are always welcome (see facebook.com/collin.homeless for more meeting information).

At their first annual Summit on Homelessness in Collin County, hosted by Collin College, the CCHC brought all interested parties together to get updated statistics on homelessness, to break down homeless stereotypes and to increase awareness of agencies and organizations offering solutions.

According to the keynote speaker, Plano council member Rick Grady, 80 percent of homeless children in Collin County double-up or sofa surf with other families, 11 percent live in homeless shelters, six percent live in motels and three percent live in cars, parks, storage lockers and abandoned buildings. Ten percent of homeless adults in Collin County have college degrees. Homeless people in Collin County are working hard to regain normalcy, but life circumstances and the cost of housing can be unrelenting riptides in today’s society.

In 2004, per statistics given during the Summit on Homelessness in Collin County, the population of Collin County was 644,204 people. A one-bedroom apartment cost $720 per month, and one needed to make $25,920 a year to afford that apartment and living expenses. More than 200 people every night were experiencing homelessness.

In 2015, Collin County’s population had grown to more than 917,000 people. That same one-bedroom apartment cost $1,220 per month, and one had to earn at least $43,520 every year to afford it. For a person working a minimum wage job, it would require 504 hours of work, or 63 days, or at least two-and-a-half jobs per month to earn enough to live in a one-bedroom apartment.

At least 500 people every night are experiencing homelessness in Collin County. Thirty-three percent are children and 37 percent of unsheltered homeless are employed. The top three causes of homelessness in Collin County are being cost-burdened, illness or disability and domestic violence. A person is considered cost-burdened if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In 2016, 2,289 students were listed as homeless in Collin County. Homelessness may seem non-existent here, but the numbers do not lie. It is a very real, heart-wrenching problem in our area.

Though the Summit on Homelessness in Collin County was filled with people and organizations that are working to help, Mayor Brian Loughmiller of McKinney stated in his opening comments, “One organization cannot do it alone. Government cannot do it alone. It takes faith-based communities; it takes corporations; it takes public servants to come forward and attack this problem. I encourage you to be creative and work together.”

So, how can you help? Start by learning more about the organizations and nonprofits that are tackling homelessness in the area. Attend a CCHC meeting. Contact your church for outreach opportunities. If you see a gap in service, gather a group and brainstorm solutions to fill the need together.

Opportunities can be small, one-time events such as sponsoring or serving a meal at The Samaritan Inn or City House, driving a homeless person back to the hospital or pharmacy for follow-up care or donating funds, clothing or hygiene items. Opportunities can also be larger and ongoing. One school in Plano decided to sponsor all the homeless students who attended a designated sister school in their district. Chase Oaks Church in Plano and Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco both have Open Table programs where people from all churches come together to connect the dots for homeless families and direct them to relevant organizations.

Many local individuals and groups are contributing to the cause. Jim Malatich, the CEO of Hope’s Door, is spreading the word about Trauma-Informed Care and how to make traumatized individuals feel welcomed and safe. Rebecca Cox, the vice president of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, is educating people on how their Homeless Management Information System can help establish homeless eligibility with one unified data source, regardless of service or organization. Brad Negrete, the behavioral health crisis services program director for Lifepath Systems, is publicizing their 2017 services to help prevent mental health crises in Collin County, including a crisis hotline (1.877.422.5939). All of these organizations would be grateful for volunteers and assistance. Ronnie Fetzer, the Place 13 affiliate/advocate chair for the CCHC, emphasized, “It is not that difficult to get involved. If God has no silos, then neither should we.”

 

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