Panel Discussion Presented by Collin College’s Center for Scholarly & Civic Engagement
Shanette Brown, City of Plano (Community Development Coordinator) and the Collin County Homeless Coalition
In 2001, President Bush reactivated the Interagency Council on Homelessness, originally established in 1987, to better coordinate the efforts of 18 federal agencies in addressing the needs of homeless persons. The Interagency Council issued a call for cities and counties throughout the U.S. to develop 10-year plans to end homelessness. Responding to that call, in 2004, the City of Plano sought to coordinate the construction of a plan to end chronic homelessness in Collin County. “Homeward Bound, a County-Wide Plan to End Chronic Homelessness” is the plan for Collin County. The plan was approved by the City of Plano City Council in December 2004, and distributed to other non-profit and governmental entities throughout Collin County. The Collin County Homeless Coalition was formed after establishing the County-wide plan. The City of Plano is an active participant in the Collin County Homeless Coalition and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) in order to ensure that the needs of homeless individuals in the City of Plano and Collin County are met. The Collin County Homeless Coalition is a collaborative effort of individuals and agencies who address the challenges of homelessness in our community. Through Education, advocacy, mutual support and the sharing of resources, we strive to prevent and respond to homelessness as well as increase the ability of the community to respond to individual needs.
The Collin County Homeless Coalition was organized to continuing the efforts began with the County-Wide Plan and end homelessness in Collin County. The Coalition is comprised of representatives from non-profit agencies, Collin County cities, and school districts.
Note: The Coalition recognizes that the federal government’s definition of Chronic Homelessness does not always address the issues of homelessness as seen in Collin County. Consequently, the Collin County Homeless Coalition’s definition of homelessness includes, individuals and/or families living in shelters, cars, moving from house to house sleeping on someone’s couch (AKA “Couch Surfing”), and those that for one reason or another do not have a permanent place of residents that they call home.
The Collin County Homeless Coalition meets the first Thursday of every month at 9:00 am at the City of Plano Municipal Building located at 1520 K Avenue, Plano, Texas 75074.
How many people in Collin County are homeless?
- According to the homeless count done in 2009, there were 211 individuals – including 81 children and youth – homeless at that time. Go to http://pdf.plano.gov/planning/2009Count.pdf to see breakdowns by age, gender, race, and other factors. Please note, however, that an accurate count is very difficult to get. Please see below for statistics from other agencies.
How many of those people are in Plano?
- According to the same 2009 count, there are 94 homeless individuals specifically in Plano.
What is the City of Plano doing?
- Participation in the Collin County Homeless Coalition
- Participation in the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance
- Funds for rent and utility assistance as well as on-going case management
- Support of My Friend’s Place (see below)
- City Homelessness Prevention Program
Sgt. Courtney Pero, Plano Police Department
- The homeless population is a very transient community.
- When interacting with the police department, homeless people don’t always admit to being homeless.
- Compared to 2008, the number of incidents involving a homeless perpetrator or victim has risen significantly.
- The number of homeless people taken into custody for mental health evaluation in 2009 was almost 5 times that in 2009 due in part to a concerted effort to train the police department on how to deal with people with mental illness.
James Thomas, Plano Independent School District, Homeless Liaison
The role of the Homeless Liaison is to develop and implement policies which remove barriers to the education of homeless children:
- Inform families of all available city, county, and other services
- Immediately enroll all children in school regardless of documentation
- Ensure that students who become homeless while enrolled in school remain in the school they were initially enrolled at despite where they end up staying
- Provide transportation to and from school regardless of where the family is staying
- Provide after school and night care for children so that parents can work
PISD has identified 115 homeless children
- 60 staying in hotels
- 30 staying in shelters
- 25 staying with another family
- This number does not include “couch surfers” (teens who go from one friend’s house to another) who have not identified themselves as homeless
There are 20 schools in PIDS that have over 30% of their children on free/reduced lunches. There are 7 schools with over 60%. Most are elementary schools.
Dr. Peggy Wittie, Collin County Health Department, Epidemiologist
Poverty drastically impacts a person’s access to healthcare, and lack of healthcare can cause or exacerbate a person’s poverty (e.g. mental health issues, major medical expenses, etc.).
For a homeless person, treatment costs, transportation, follow-up, and home care are all factors.
Through funds from the CDC, NGO’s, and the Texas Department of Health, the County Health Department is able to help with immunizations. In addition, the indigent health care program provides healthcare to qualified adults by working with healthcare providers who are willing to provide free services.
Elizabeth Kent, Geriatric Wellness Center of Collin County
- Senior citizens make up approximately 15% of the county’s population
- The average income of a Plano senior living on social security is $15,000
- The average income of a Plano senior receiving money from a small retirement fund is $25,000 – one quarter of the overall average income of Plano residents
- As a percentage of their total income, seniors spend more on housing costs than younger people
- Seniors have triple the rate of disability compared to young people; 1/3 of seniors have some type of physical or mental disability
- All of these factors combined make the senior population extremely vulnerable
- Elizabeth Kent’s job is to help seniors in crisis
Karen Voelker, City House
Each year in Collin County, more than 200 vulnerable children are removed from their homes due to physical, emotional, sexual abuse, abandonment or neglect.
In the late 1980s, two Plano school teachers noticed some of their students arriving at school with all their belongings in trash bags. The students would store the trash bags in their lockers during the day and take the bags with them when they left school at the end of the day. Upon investigation, the teachers discovered these students were homeless. The teachers’ reaction was ‘not in this community!’ The thought of homeless youth was intolerable to these teachers. They immediately began working on ways to provide a safe shelter for teens in crisis. The community rallied to the cause and the first facility was opened in 1989. It was a 6 bed shelter in a house owned by the First Baptist Church. That was the birth of CITY House. For 20 years, CITY House has been providing a safe environment for 10 to 17 year olds in the only teen homeless shelter in Collin County.
My Friend’s House provides a safe home (24 beds) for children from birth to 17 with a focus on keeping sibling groups together and meeting the needs of children with special abilities and primary medical needs. During the traumatic time after removal, these vulnerable children need safe shelter, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, medical and dental care, access to education and various physical and emotional behavioral interventions including individual, group and play therapy.
Transitional Resources, Intake and Placement Services (TRIPS) helps young adults 16-23 develop the skills and confidence needed to responsible, productive members of the community. This is the quickest rising age group of homeless people. There are two 6-bed TRIPS shelters in Plano: one home for young men and one home for young women. Services include free assistance with food, clothing, education (including help with college placement), employment, and other life skills. Case managers help 50-60 young people in addition to the residents with these services.
Gary Rodenbaugh, Family Promise of Collin County
The Family Promise Network provides a way for religious congregations to work together to help homeless families. Each congregation participating in the Network provides overnight lodging and meals for three to five families (up to fourteen people) for one week each two or three months on a rotating basis. Homeless families which we prefer to call our guests, stay at the house of worship from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. daily. Each morning, guests are taken by van to a day center where they meet with the Network director, care for preschool children, look for housing and employment, or go out to school or work.
The Family Promise Network enables religious congregations to meet the important basic needs of homeless families, who represent the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Usually, more than half the guests in the Network are children and most of the children are less than five years old. Nationally, more than 3,500 congregations participate in Family Promise Networks, also known as Interfaith Hospitality Networks – where many thousands of volunteers help families regain their independence.
Volunteers are the foundation of the Network. There are many ways that you can volunteer to help. As a Family Promise volunteer, whether you prepare a hot meal, read to or tutor a child, help a parent write a resume, or stay overnight with guests, you will make a difference in the lives of families that have suffered the loss of their homes.
Family Promise of Collin County has 6 of the 10 churches needed to begin a network. Based on the need in Collin County and the 77% success rate of getting homeless people back on their feet, Family Promise is an excellent way for your congregation to help make a real difference.
Pat Tosi, CEO of Hope’s Door
It takes an average of seven attempts to leave before a victim of domestic violence is able to do so. When she does – often with young children in tow – she is confused, scared, needs medical attention, and has nowhere to go. Using a credit card, writing a check, or even using an ATM would give her abuser clues to her whereabouts.
Hope’s Door is a shelter and counseling center for families suffering from domestic violence. Services include:
- A 24-hour crisis hotline
- An 18-month transitional housing program which includes life skills
- A 6-month transitional housing program for those who are closer to self-sufficiency upon entry
- Jobs, clothes, legal services, medical services
- Programs to educate the abusers, help them to change, and hold them accountable to do so
- Public education in schools, churches, and other forums designed to break the cycle of domestic violence
- 90% of abusers and victims grew up in an abusive home
- 1/5 of all teens experience teen or dating violence
- more than 1/3 of all women experience domestic violence
- 3 women are killed by their domestic partner each day in the US
- Over 3,000 cases of domestic violence were reported in Collin County last year; because only
- 20% of domestic violence incidents are reported, the actual number is estimated at more like 15,000
Since 1989, Hope’s Door has:
- Housed 5,000 women and children
- Taken 12,000 calls
- Educated 2,000 abusers
- Educated 25,000 community members
They operate at capacity, so the very bad news is that they had to turn away 400 families in 2009 because there wasn’t enough room.
Lynne Sipiora, Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn
A single mother of three loses her job and can no longer pay her rent.
A pregnant 18 year old is told she is no longer welcome in her family’s home.
A high tech executive loses his house after months of unemployment.
A John and Annette are a 30-year old couple with two small children. They’re both earning minimum wage and only able to get 30 hours/week because keeping them under 40 hours allows their employers to avoid paying for benefits. They are living paycheck to paycheck. When their 2-year-old gets an ear infection, they have to pay $75 for an urgent care visit and $75 for an anti-biotic; they also have to take turns staying home from work to care for the baby. This is their tipping point into homelessness.
Since 1984, The Samaritan Inn has helped thousands of homeless people in Collin County regain their independence with comprehensive programs and the help of caring individuals and corporations. But because they too operate at capacity, they turn away 15-30 people each week.