Collin County Homelessness: Invisible Tragedies

Collin County Homelessness: Invisible Tragedies

Paul Hendricks is a man of unbridled passions, all revolving about some form of public service. Hendricks sits on the Fairview Town Council after having served for nine years on the Fairview Planning and Zoning Commission. Retired from the U.S. Air Force and the Boeing Company, he is the President of the Dallas Air Force Association. Hendricks also heads up the Veterans Center of North Texas, a non-profit organization with a mission to assist veterans and their families to integrate into their communities and maintain productive lifestyles.

Several years ago Hendricks discovered that 14 percent of Collin County’s homeless are veterans. It led him to want to know much more about homelessness in one of the state’s most prosperous and rapidly growing communities and resulted in him joining the Collin County Homeless Coalition (collinhomeless.wixsite.com/cchc), a community organization that involves city governments, school districts, Collin College, homeless service providers, business advocates and faith-based communities working together to address the county’s homelessness dilemma.

There are 27 towns and cities in Collin County. Its population in 2017 was 969,603, a 97 percent increase since the last official U.S. Census in 2000. At the current rate of growth its population may soar to 3.8 million, surpassing Dallas by 2050 according to the Texas State Demographer. Today 80 people relocate to Collin County every day. The average taxable home value at $317,599 (2016) is one of the highest in Texas. The extraordinary growth of North Texas is driving the cost of housing well beyond the reach of many residents. Minimum wage earners are especially vulnerable to homelessness because while many work full-time, often with several jobs, their wages fall far short of what is needed to escape from poverty.  This is one of the root causes of homelessness.

On the night of January 25, one of the most frigid nights of this year’s winter, groups of trained volunteers conducted an annual homeless census of Collin County, something required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a prerequisite for any federal grants for the remediation of homelessness. That census reveals that there are 427 persons identified as homeless of which 140 are children. Of the total, 100 were identified as unsheltered homeless, having spent the night on a park bench, in a vehicle, storage unit or any other venue not considered providing traditional shelter, 327 people were sheltered temporarily, either in a designated facility, someone else’s home or in a hotel/motel paid for by a charitable organization; 62 percent of unsheltered persons reported working full-time, part-time, temporary or seasonal positions. Equally troubling, the census found that there are 1,454 homeless students in the county, many are kids without parents or parental supervision, often living with friends or relatives.

One of the key points made by Paul Hendricks when we talked is that, “Homelessness is a very complex issue with many difficult-to-resolve facets.” Hendricks’ work for veterans led him to understand that there are several triggers that cause homelessness. He calls it Paul’s Pyramid and it involves five major causes of instability including homelessness. They include Shelter and long-term housing; the need for immediate funds, such as money needed to pay the rent; financial management challenges, people simply not having the knowledge or insight to be able to properly manage their finances; unemployment and underemployment; and mental illness.

An issue that creates enormously destructive outcomes is eviction. Hendricks points out, “If you have been evicted from an apartment that information quickly appears on your credit report. This makes getting a new lease very difficult if not impossible and often triggers long-term homelessness. But this is only one of many problems that need to be managed if we are to address homelessness effectively”.

While organizations like the Samaritan Inn, Shiloh Place, Blake’s House and many others are providing some assistance and some limited long-term housing, the fact remains that in one of the wealthiest counties in Texas there is still no emergency short-term shelter to assist those who are in crisis. 

There are many individuals and organizations now focusing on ways to solve homelessness in Collin County. “Homelessness in Collin County has been an invisible challenge for a decade”, says Hendricks. “Good intentions alone”, he says, “won’t keep a homeless person warm over a cold winter night. It’s time to finance and build an emergency shelter to meet the needs of our neighbors in distress. ” If you would like more information about how to get involved in solving homelessness contact the Collin County Homeless Coalition (collinhomeless.wixsite.com/cchc).

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