New Frisco initiative calls on community to address Collin County homelessness

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It is no secret that Collin County is experiencing rapid growth, and with that growth comes new corporations moving into the area and more families. But among these affluent and growing suburban neighborhoods lies an issue that remains hidden: homelessness.

A new Frisco initiative known as StepUp Frisco is being led by two women who want to rally Frisco residents, the faith community and the business sector to bring awareness to the issue and the organizations already in Collin County helping combat this issue.

“Our mission with StepUp Frisco is to gain support to expand the existing programs in Collin County that are also benefiting Frisco residents,” said Christine Ortega, vice chair and founding board member of the Collin County Homeless Coalition.

She and Ann Harris, the co-founder of Frisco Giving Tree, joined forces to found StepUp Frisco.

“We’re not trying to start something new; we just want to mobilize our people and support the programs that already exist because they are bursting at the seams,” Ortega said.

StepUp Frisco is partnering with three organizations: City House in Plano, Family Promise of Collin County and The Samaritan Inn in McKinney. These organizations have been serving Collin County for many years.

Frisco does not have a homeless shelter, and Collin County does not have a year-round emergency shelter. By partnering with organizations, StepUp Frisco is hoping to get more members of the community involved and start sheltering in their own city, Ortega said at a February event.

Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said creating a shelter would be better addressed on the county and regional levels.

“[From] Frisco’s perspective, I think the infrastructure we have in place right now is adequate,” he said.

In 2019, Collin County identified 558 people experiencing homelessness—up 31.9% from 2013. Denton County identified 194 people experiencing homelessness—a decrease of 18.5%, according to the 2019 Point-In-Time Homeless Count.

Communities across the country conduct a Point-In-Time Count every January to count the number of people who are homeless. Collin and Denton counties conducted the count Jan. 24.

While the Point-In-Time Homeless Count report can give somewhat of an overview, it is not a true representation of homelessness in the county, Ortega said in a previous interview with Community Impact Newspaper.

The Point-In-Time Count provides a snapshot of homelessness in communities across the country for one night. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, requires communities that are applying for funding to serve the homeless to count the unsheltered and sheltered homeless on one night in January.

Ortega said while the numbers are low in Frisco—with three people identifying as homeless in 2019—it is still an issue that needs to be addressed, and groups involved with StepUp Frisco are working on that.

“Our numbers are low … much lower than surrounding communities, but I think anyone with compassion thinks that a number greater than one is too many,” Cheney said.

While the homelessness rate is low in Frisco, Cheney said he expects the number of homeless people in the city to increase as the city and county continue to grow.

“That’s why an organization like StepUp Frisco … [and]their efforts as far as putting in things that the community can help with in advance … will be nothing but a positive step in the right direction,” Cheney said.

Ortega and Harris said they want to start reaching out to the faith community in Frisco because they believe that is where more volunteers and resources could be found.

The first kickoff event for StepUp Frisco was held in late February to educate the faith community about the existing programs and how they can provide support.

The next step will be to bring awareness to the business sector of Frisco.

“Our goal for Frisco is to raise over $2 million dollars of the $8 million total to support expanding these existing homeless programs,” Ortega said. “It is a large goal for us, but as we grow, we need to take care of our people and make sure that we are providing the right resources.”

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Nicole Luna is the Senior Reporter for Frisco. She covers development, transportation, education, business and city government. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Spanish from The University of Texas at Arlington and has been with Community Impact Newspaper since June 2015.
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