McKinney: New Approaches This Summer to Address Homelessness

In McKinney, makeshift tents where homeless people spend the night are often tucked just out of sight of the general public passing by. But, those who work with the homeless in Collin County say the problem is growing and can no longer remain hidden.

"There's this mistaken notion by many here in Collin County that we don't have a problem," said Rick Crocker, CEO of the Samaritan Inn in McKinney.

The Samaritan Inn is a long-term transitional program for homeless individuals and families. Crocker said the average stay for a person is 205 days, a period spent working with a caseworker to receive employment help and counseling.

It's not an emergency, overnight shelter. There is no year-round emergency shelter in Collin County in spite of evidence that the homeless population is growing.

Crocker believes a point-in-time census earlier this year pointing to a 30 percent increase in the Collin County homeless population still underestimates the number of actual homeless people.

"We know there are many more that are tucked away here and there in those encampments, in cheap motels, with a family member or friend that we have no access to that we can not include in the count," explained Crocker.

Paul Ballesteros, of Emmanuel Labor, works with the homeless. Since the start of the year, he said he's encountered 130 unique individuals just in McKinney. He said he'd estimate the number of homeless people is at least double that.

The issue became more visible this past Spring, when people began camping at the Roy and Helen Hall Library in McKinney.

"Problems don't go away if you don't address them, they generally just get larger," said McKinney Mayor George Fuller.

This summer, Mayor Fuller launched a task force that includes city council members, county commissioners and the Collin County Homeless Commission.

He said one of the priorities is to locate space in McKinney for a resource center by October. Fuller said the center would pull together nonprofits and social service resources from across the county in one place. That way, an individual who needs help getting their ID, a resume or medical assistance can find help without traveling from office to office.

"How can we, as a city, help connect those in need with resources that can provide the help?" said Fuller.

The task force is also looking at city ordinances that may prevent nonprofits from providing help.

"I've received criticism that if you talk about homelessness in the community, that it somehow tarnishes the community. That if you talk about a city getting involved in trying to help the homeless situation, then you become a city that is welcoming homelessness," said Fuller.

But Fuller argues the city should be proactive and find a humane solution.

"The reality is there is an issue, there is a problem and its one that's not going to go away," he said.

McKinney Police have also launched a homeless unit this summer. An officer is assigned to the unit to determine how the police department should respond.

"They recognize the problem is there and that to avoid or ignore it or not address it is not an adequate response," said Crocker.

Crocker points out that a city or a nonprofit can't find a solution on its own.

"It's going to take the entire community," said Crocker. "It's going to take all of these communities in Wylie, Plano, Frisco, in McKinney, in Fairview to work at this collectively."

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