Growth in Plano homeless population spurs action from city, local groups

Each year, local groups conduct a headcount of the homeless population in Collin County. (Graphic by Breanna Flores)
Each year, local groups conduct a headcount of the homeless population in Collin County. (Graphic by Breanna Flores)

Each year, local groups conduct a headcount of the homeless population in Collin County. (Graphic by Breanna Flores)

A Plano program that assists the homeless population has received additional state funding after a waitlist developed in the program’s first year.

The city of Plano is one of nine municipalities slated to receive a share of funding from a $4.9 million program in 2020 from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The funding will go toward Plano’s Rapid Rehousing Program, which began in late 2018 and is designed to help individuals and families become self-sufficient by providing rent and social service assistance for up to 12 months. So far, the program has helped 22 people in Plano.

The 13 individuals who are currently on the waitlist are expected to receive help in the coming year due to the additional state funding, but city officials expect the need goes beyond those who are currently listed, said Shanette Eaden, housing and community services manager with the city of Plano.

“We believe the demand exceeds the number on the waitlist, as program outreach has slowed due to the size of the waiting list,” she wrote in an email.

The Plano program will receive roughly $175,000 from the state, an increase of nearly $36,000 from the previous year.

Plano has organizations that offer transitional shelter to women, children and veterans depending on their personal situations. But single men, families and those who do not fit into specific shelters, such as those for abused or pregnant women, had few to no options before the creation of the Rapid Rehousing Program, Eaden said, and long-term options for homeless people were even more scarce.

Volunteers routinely canvass the city in partnership with the Plano Police Department and Plano Fire-Rescue to let people know about the program and offer assistance, although outreach has slowed as the waitlist has grown. Finding them can be difficult, as large portions of Plano’s homeless population live in cars, move between friends’ homes or stay in motels, Eaden said.

In January, as part of the yearly Point in Time headcount, Plano city staff and volunteers took to the streets, parking lots and local shelters to count as many homeless people as they could. Their count rose 10% from 2018, and the percentage of unsheltered homeless increased by 49% from the previous year.

This year’s combined Point in Time count for Collin County was higher than 500 for the first time since 2016. And of the 163 homeless people found unsheltered in all of Collin County, Plano accounted for 103 of them.

A little more than half of Plano’s unsheltered population was found at the local Salvation Army overnight warming station, which is open on select nights when temperatures and precipitation reach dangerous levels. The remainder chose to stay outside or in their cars, according to a report by Eaden.

Plano does not have an emergency shelter for the general homeless population. The city discussed the possibility of building one nearly a decade ago, but the project never got off the ground after being initially tabled by Plano City Council in 2010.

“Nothing can ever replace a [general population] emergency shelter,” Eaden said.

In neighboring McKinney, The Samaritan Inn provides emergency housing for those facing homelessness in Collin County. It served 796 people in 2018. McKinney counted 42 individuals without shelter on the night of the Point in Time count.

Of those who are homeless in Plano, almost all lived in Plano before becoming homeless, Eaden said. Nearly 70% of the homeless people included in Plano’s Point in Time count were employed in at least one part-time or full-time job.

“The majority of our homeless—they didn’t just move to Plano to be homeless in Plano,” she said.

‘It’s not going away’

One-third of the documented homeless population in Collin County are children, according to the Collin County Homeless Census.

This year, Plano ISD began sending student residency questionnaires to families coming into the district. That effort, paired with heightened staff and teacher awareness, has identified 343 students as homeless as of mid-October. That count, which restarts each year, was at 274 on the same date last year and peaked at more than 530 by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

PISD Student Services Coordinator James Thomas said he suspects the actual number is even higher.

“We don’t—we certainly don’t—catch all the homeless families, and there’s no way we’ll get all the homeless kids,” Thomas said.

While the district admits it may be getting better at seeking out those living in a state of homelessness, the rising numbers likely indicate an actual increase in the homeless population, Thomas said.

City House, a Plano-based emergency shelter for those age 17 and younger, has seen an increase in children affected by homelessness, City House CEO Sheri Messer said. It dedicates only about 30% of its emergency shelter availability to children who are not part of a Child Protective Services case. City House is also one of the lead agencies in the Rapid Rehousing Program. The organization cares for those ages 24 and under in the program, while the Assistance Center of Collin County focuses on those 25 and older, she said.

City House often has a waitlist for non-CPS or program-related children, but if a child is in immediate need of an emergency shelter, staffers do their best to help, Messer said.

“The more people coming into the area yields more problems,” Messer said. “It’s not going away.”

The next Point in Time count is scheduled for January, Eaden said. City staff is discussing the possibility of having more than one count per year in the future, she said.

The city of Plano has also spent time compiling an in-depth study on housing trends to help to eventually create a new housing policy. In the study, staff found that roughly one-third of Plano residents are cost-burdened, which means they spend 30% or more of their income on housing, as defined by the federal government. These costs can lead people to become homeless, Eaden said.

‘The person sitting next to you’

The Collin County Homeless Coalition serves as a think tank and connector for more than 60 organizations, districts and cities in Collin County, said Terry Hockenbrough, director of business and community outreach at Collin College and president of the coalition.

The coalition was founded in 2004 and provides a yearly census document summarizing the findings from the Point in Time count across Collin County.

“We share the resources and information. And [the coalition is] a place for people to get together and collaborate and initiate response,” Hockenbrough said. “The coalition itself is not a first responder or a responding service provider. We serve the service provider.”

Hockenbrough said one issue that continues to hinder the efforts of city staff and organizations in Collin County is the stigma that surrounds homelessness.

“Because of the stigma of it, most of those situations are hidden,” she said. “What we think—or what the perception that causes it—is you’re lazy; you don’t want to work. You’re on drugs, you’re on alcohol or you’re a criminal. But the reality of it is that most people are homeless because of everyday financial situations.”

Thomas said he remembers being unaware of homelessness while living in Plano as a child and young adult. He now attributes this to common stereotypes and how different homelessness looks in affluent communities like Plano. “Living in transition” is a phrase Thomas often uses when speaking with those experiencing homelessness.

“We never ever know what people are going through,” Thomas said. “Major medical bills can throw us in that transition. A divorce can throw us into homelessness. And these are situations that I’ve encountered numerous times, where folks are doing really well and they lost their job, and throw us into transition.”

“[Homelessness] looks like the person sitting next to you in Collin County.”

This article ran in the November 2019 edition of Community Impact Newspaper in Plano. Read the full e-edition here.


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