Thursday, September 6, 2012
Homeless count in Collin County soars up 44 percent since last year
70 percent are single moms and their kids.
Collin County is the wealthiest county in Texas, with a median household income of $80,504, more than 62 percent higher than the state average.
Still, even with some of the most affluent and fastest-growing cities in the state, the county has a problem that people don't like to talk about: homelessness.
A recent count of homeless residents conducted by the Collin County Homeless Coalition revealed 531 homeless people living in Collin County, a 44 percent increase from 2011. While the numbers may seem shocking, there could be even more homeless residents, said a representative of the county's only homeless shelter.
"The numbers are always wrong; they are always far lower," said Lynne Sipiora, executive director of The Samaritan Inn. "I assure you they are always wrong because homeless people don't want to be counted. However, the trend of an increase is accurate."
The homeless count revealed that Plano has 291 homeless residents, or about 55 percent of the county's total. This is a 12.5 percent increase from 2011. The count included 199 adults and 92 children.
"I always want to say it is a single mom and kids -- that is what homelessness in Plano and Collin County looks like," Cara Mendelsohn, the chairwoman of the Collin County Homeless Coalition, told the Plano City Council last week. "Sure enough, that is what the data is telling us. This year we saw a 50 percent increase in family homelessness in Collin County."
Of the homeless families in Collin County, 70 percent are made up of single mothers and their children, Mendelsohn said.
"When you think of kids that are homeless, are you thinking of a teenager? Are you thinking of an elementary kid? Are you thinking of a baby?" Mendelsohn asked the council. "Because any of those answers are right. All you really need to know is that it is every single age."
The racial makeup of the homeless population in Collin County is overwhelmingly skewed toward African-Americans, Mendelsohn said. Countywide, 49 percent of homeless children are African-American, and 33 percent of homeless adults are African-American. According to census data, only 9 percent of the county's children and 8 percent of the county's adults are African-American.
The homeless at The Samaritan Inn are not the stereotypical homeless panhandler seen in large, urban areas, Sipiora said. Many of the clients are families that were doing OK until the economy began its downturn several years ago.
"I think economic decline played a part," she said. "The primary reason we are seeing people these days is long-term unemployment. They have lost their job, couldn't find another, used up their unemployment benefits and burned through their savings. They are absolutely out of options."
The Samaritan Inn has 160 beds and is at capacity each night of the year, Sipiora said, adding that about 50 people are turned away each week because of capacity issues. Once a person gains a spot at the shelter, they are enrolled in a program that aims to get them back on their feet with a permanent roof over their head.
"When someone comes in, we immediately assign them to a case worker who determines how and why they became homeless," Sipiora said. "They put together an individual program plan based on their needs. Do you need a GED? Help finding a job? Need to attend an AA meeting or a parenting class? We take care of all of those needs. We develop a program that if followed, will lead to independence."
Through the help of a number of nonprofit organizations and food banks in Plano, the homeless situation is being addressed each and every day, Plano Mayor Phil Dyer said. The city also has grant money which goes to help prevent homelessness, he added.
"We are certainly an affluent county, but obviously we have people that are struggling financially and we have homeless issues," Dyer said. "They survey did a great job in trying to identify how many people are homeless. They obviously don't catch everyone, but it gives you an idea of the size of issue. It is just a terrible problem that we can't ignore."
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