A few eye-opening Collin County facts:
- 63,370 people who are below the poverty level in the county. (0.81%), 2010 census
- 122,964 have no health insurance (15.6%), 2010 census
- 10.2% of our children under 18 live in poverty, 2010 census
- 7.7% are unemployed (August, 2011)
The Healthcare Committee Collin County will hold a educational forum Tuesday Oct. 18th.
Date: Tuesday October 18th, 2011
Time: 6:30 - 9:00 p.m.
Place: Collin College Conference Center - Spring Creek Campus
Room AA135 - Section DE, 2800 E. Spring Creek Pkwy, Plano, TX 75074
- Rev. Janet Collinsworth – Director of Mission and Outreach, St. Andrews United Methodist Church and 7 Loaves Food Pantry. Under Rev. Janet’s leadership St. Andrew’s has reached out to provide many needed services in Plano including a Food Pantry, a Medical Clinic and School Programs. Through these efforts, the data they have collected shows Collin County and those in poverty in a very eye-opening way.
- Dr. Richard Adams – is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and will speak on the topic of children in Texas and their health and well-being. Dr. Adams has researched and is published widely on issues related to children with special needs. Food insecurities can play an important role in childhood health and behavior issues.
- Cara Mendelsohn – Chairman of Collin County Homeless Coalition. The results of the most recent homeless point in time count and what it means for our community will be addressed along with upcoming awareness events planned for National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week.
- Lynne Sipiora - Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn, McKinney. Lynne will give firsthand experience with homelessness in Collin County and where they see the need.
Yesterday Judge Mark Rusch ordered Jacqueline Elissa Wages to the county jail until she pays $8,942.68 for child support of her 4 children. Jacqueline Elissa Wages, 27 is also known as Jacqueline Elissa Campean and Jacqueline Elissa Jones. She and Jeremy were divorced in 2006, but by 2007, the Texas Attorney General had to begin enforcement because Jacqueline would not pay child support.
Her ex-husband told the court that Jacqueline would not visit her children, nor pay any child support. Jeremy told the court that he was struggling trying to support and care for their 3 girls and one boy. The 401st District Court files show that the state has issued citations to Jacqueline for non-support on 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Jeremy told the court that Jacqueline refuse to allow her employers to garnish her pay checks, and would change jobs to stay one step ahead of the Attorney General. Jeremy pointed out that Jacqueline anyways seemed to be able to by cigarettes, but nothing for her children. Judge Mark Rusch asked Jacqueline how much money she spent on cigarettes. She responded on about $5/day.
Rusch listened to both sides and then ordered Jacqueline confined to the county jail until she paid the entire $8,942.68 in appears. The judge told her that she allowed to pay for her own minimal essential needs, but her child support is required to be paid before she spends for non-essentials. Judge Rusch told her that she should have given what ever she could pay her support every month, even if all she had give her kids, the $5/day.
Judge Rusch allows Jacqueline Wages' work release time during week days.
The Collin County Jail is a non-smoking facility.
The courts of Texas are allowed a certain amount of discretion in making their judgments and in formulating their own local rules of the court. However, the courts have no discretion in choosing to obey or to not obey the law.
The Collin County State District Courthouse selectively provides the benefits of Texas Labor Code 207.007 to some, but not all of those who file lawsuits under Texas Labor Code 212. In doing so the District Courthouse violates the civil rights of some of the citizens of Collin County. The violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights of even a small group of people is of concern to everyone. Once this kind of judicial abuse is tolerated, no one is immune from its effect and there is no limit to its magnitude. [Add photo 1]
Texas Labor Code 207.007(a) states in pertinent part,
“An individual claiming (unemployment insurance) benefits under this subtitle may not be charged a fee in a proceeding under this subtitle by a court or an officer of a court. A person who violates this section commits an offense. An offense under this section is punishable by:
- a fine of not less than $50 and not more than $500;
- imprisonment for not more than six months; or
- both a fine and imprisonment.”
In passing this law [hyperlink to entire text of law] the State of Texas took the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to seek the redress of grievances in the courts one step further by giving the unemployed the right to obtain access to the courts free of charge. When this law was passed in 1985, the Texas Legislature effectively declared the unemployed to be “poor” for the purposes of filing lawsuits to overturn a ruling by the Texas Workforce Commission denying an individual unemployment benefits.
The law not only makes it a criminal act to charge a fee for filing a petition, it is also a crime to charge a fee for transcriptions of a court hearing or a trial; or a fee for a court record prepared for appellate review. No person claiming benefits "shall be charged fees of any kind" by an officer of the court. [hyperlink appellate Court ruling]
In reviewing the public court records of twelve of the most recent cases involving the Texas Workforce Commission and the application of Texas Labor Code 207.007, a pattern of abuse emerges. Different groups of litigants get different results.
Attorneys, in their own cases against the Texas Workforce Commission to obtain benefits, either do not pay the fee or receive a refund. In case number 416-01007-2008, lawyer Grace Soo Way Liang, paid no fee. In case number 429-01477-2010, lawyer Scott Horner paid the fee and later requested and was granted a refund.
One attorney always obtains a wavier of fees. Attorney Raul Loya includes a copy of the law with his original petition and his clients pay no fees. Those cases are 416-03541-2009 and 199-01593-2009.
Texas Labor Code 207.007 has no “catch 22” requirement that a person must request the waiver before obtaining a waiver of fees. The elements of the crime are simple, first an eligible individual asks to file their case and second a court official charges a fee. Civil litigation cover sheets are required to file lawsuits and the clerks need only to look at the 107 boxes provided to see if any are marked “Employment.”
In five other cases, attorneys had their clients’ pay the fee. It is hard to imagine that lawyers taking labor and employment cases would not know the Texas Labor Code. This is especially true of an attorney who is board certified in labor and employment law. Other than ignorance, one possible explanation is these lawyers fear judicial retaliation for failing to “go along to get along.” These five cases are 401-03809-2010, 199-01657-07, 366-01383-2009, 199-01841-2011, and 401-03340-06. One attorney, who asked not to be named, stated because Texas Labor Code 212 cases must be filed within strict time limits, “it was easier to pay the fee” rather than risk having the case dismissed because of missing a deadline caused by the “hassle” of getting a waiver. The waiver should instantaneous and without any hassle at all.
Pro se litigants, those representing themselves, are in the final group. These individuals are asked to pay a an unlawful fee that they cannot afford and then are forced to humiliate themselves by filing affidavits of indigence in order to present their case in court.
Ms. Camilla Thornton (429-01908-2010) jumped through all the hoops created by the administrative review process of the Texas Workforce Commission in order to preserve her right to seek a judicial review of the TWC’s denial of benefits. Ms. Thornton stated when she attempted to file her complaint she was unable to afford the fee and was turned away. The clerk offered no assistance or did she suggest Ms. Thornton file an affidavit of indigence. The clerks are forbidden from offering any legal advice, which begs the question, are they also forbidden from obeying the law?
In a chance conversation with a friend, Ms. Thornton was told she could file an affidavit of inability to pay. Her affidavit was approved and she was able to file her complaint in the 429th State District Court.
Other individuals were not so fortunate. In the review case number 296-00367-08, Mr. Jay Cooper was forced to file an affidavit of indigence that was challenged by the court reporter of the 296th State District Court. Ms. Jan Dugger filed a Contest of Affidavit of Indigence and Inability to Pay Costs. A hearing was held before Judge Chris Older in which Mr. Cooper was afforded yet another opportunity to humiliate himself in a public hearing by truly proving he really was too poor to pay the criminally requested fees. Mr. Cooper prevailed in the hearing.
Others are even less fortunate. Ms. Sandra Parker (401-01641-06) filed the unnecessary affidavit of indigence only to have it denied. Ms. Parker paid the filing fees.
And most unfortunate group is individuals who could not pay the fee and who just walked away. With his or her case never filed, there are no records or proof of the crime committed against them. These unknowns may number in the hundreds and the fact they were not allowed to file their cases without paying filing fees suggests a possible motive for the for the violation of Texas Labor Code 207.007(a).
The courts simply to not want to hear these cases and violating the law is an easy way to keep them out of the courthouse because they always lose. Think of it as a form of judicial euthanasia for lawsuits not likely to survive anyway, but do we really want the courts to have this kind of power?
Of the twelve cases reviewed, only one individual seeking benefits prevailed and this was a case that never went to trial. Attorney Scott Horner’s case was withdrawn by the Texas General’s Office and was remanded back to the Texas Workforce Commission were it was most likely decided in Mr. Horner’s favor.
Almost all cases brought by individuals (with or without legal representation) seeking to overturn a final decision made by the TWC are lost. The reasons vary. First of all the courts are required to provide the ruling of the TWC with a “presumption of validity.” Another reason is some judges possibly look at cases from the point of view of estimating who has the most resources to prevail on appeal.
Filing a lawsuit is a zero sum game and no matter how fair a judge may be, there is always a loser, usually a sore loser at that. Given the fact a judge is going to be criticized fifty percent of the time, the only meaningful benchmark to judicial performance is how many times is a judge overturned on appeal.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General, representing the Texas Workforce Commission, holds a blank check provided by the taxpayers and this gives the lazy judge a clue as to who has the most resources to prevail on appeal.
The District Court may claim ignorance of the law, but the fact some individuals obtained waivers and others did not demonstrates a pattern of abuse. There is little doubt entry-level clerks charging and collecting filing fees don’t know the law. If they did, why would they risk a conviction and six months in jail or even risk the minimum $50 dollar fine? These clerks have little more than on the job training and know only what their superiors want them to know. In fact, the new clerks have large signs posted on their bulletproof windows, “In Training.”
The administrative leadership of the courthouse is legally obligated to properly train, supervise and control its employees to prevent the violation of the constitutional rights of those seeking access to the court.
In 1985 the Texas Legislature passed a law to give a small break to a small group of litigants. The Texas Legislature has a reasonable expectation that the courts will enforce the laws they pass.
So whom do you call when the courts break the law and criminally deny access to the courts based on judicial expedience?
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News - Austin Bureau
February 2, 2011
read this story at DallasNews.com (registration may be required)
The needs of thousands of children and adults living with mental and physical disabilities are about to collide with the limitations of the Texas state budget.
Here in the wealthiest county in the state, where some folks would prefer to ignore the unpleasantness of mental or physical challenges, it will be interesting to see how this issue is prioritized by our legislators (including Senator Florence Shapiro who sits on the Finance Committee referenced below)and dealt with on the local level by our county leaders.
December 20, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
December 5, 2010
by ED HOUSEWRIGHT/ The Dallas Morning News
Nonprofit clinic to treat the poor opens today in West Plano
October 6, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
The tightening budget in Plano is not without its casualties, one of which was scheduled to be the Senior Rides program -- but an agreement between the city and DART will spare it for at least another two years.
Because DART service does not flow extensively through Plano, especially its northwest reaches, the agency has agreed to fund the program at $50,000 per year for the next two years, or until the northwest Plano park-and-ride station is operational.
The program has offered taxi vouchers and mile reimbursement as part of its services since its inaugural year in 2008.
Lee Stark, the transportation coordinator at the Geriatric Wellness Center of Collin County, said the change to two years -- board members requested to fund the program for an initial year from the proposed one-year agreement -- helps give the program stability.
“We’re not expecting there to be significant change in terms of what the client deals with,” he said. “It marries the two agencies a lot more in terms of looking directly at the issues of senior transportation.”
Todd Plesko, DART vice president of planning and development, said until the agency can bring more coverage to that area of Plano, funding the program is a good option.
However, Vice Chairwoman of the planning committee Pamela Gates said she does not want other member cities to believe the funding is a pilot program and available to all.
Because Plano is in a different situation than member cities, it is a one-time funding agreement, she said.
Stark said despite spending just over $50,000 in 2009 and estimating the cost of the program at more than $70,000 in 2010, administrative cuts should keep the program under the $50,000 budget.
The program originally was going to cut the mile reimbursement program as part of those cuts, but as of the planning committee meeting, that part of the program still was in the plans.
Stark said the Geriatric Wellness Center is going to absorb some costs, and marketing also is going to take a cut, because the program already is almost at capacity with about 90 clients.
He said when the funding is cut off in two years, he believes not only will Plano have a park-and-ride station in the northwest area of the city, but DART and Plano will have come up with a Mobility Management Plan, which DART is working on courtesy of a United We Ride grant.
According to a presentation by DART Innovative Services Project Manager Daniel Dickerson, eligible seniors 65 years old or older can purchase discounted taxi vouchers at $25 for a $100 voucher or have mileage reimbursed at 50 cents per mile.
Plano still will be charged with running the program with funding from DART...
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer
Plano City Councilman Harry LaRosiliere
Homeless shelter backs off plan to expand in Plano
by JASON WHITELY / WFAA
August 10, 2010
Updated 11:26 PM
MCKINNEY — The Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter, said it will no longer push Plano to open its own homeless facility.
Late Tuesday night, the Plano City Council indefinitely postponed applying for $700,000 in federal funds to buy land for its own shelter.
So The Samaritan Inn — which had volunteered to run a Plano shelter and make interest payments — said it will now back off, though it will still offer help to the city whenever asked.
Even if Plano isn't ready to take part in its own shelter, the city tells us it has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Samaritan Inn over the last 20 years, which is earmarked for homeless residents and also to provide rent and utility assistance to prevent people from ever losing their home.
"Plano absolutely helps out," Samaritan Inn director Lynne Sipiora said. "We are very grateful for all the support we get from them."
The McKinney shelter is about to open a new wing, she added, which includes 40 more beds for 10 new families.
"We're tired of seeing moms and dads and kids sleeping in their cars and checking back every day to see if we have an opening," Sipiora said. "I expect that when this wing is open, we'll fill it in a week."
That's how much demand exists in the suburbs.
Plano city officials tell us nothing else to help the homeless is currently under consideration, although the city will continue to award thousands of dollars in grant money to organizations that provide assistance.
At 11:30 tonight, after a long public hearing, the Plano City Council voted 6-2 on a motion by Councilman Pat Minor to table the Samaritan Inn grant request until after the Plano Planning and Zoning Commission has acted on the Inn's rezoning request of the proposed site on FM 544 and Shiloh Rd.
The vote to table has the effect of temporarily not approving any grant funding for a homeless transition facility in Plano. The vote is a major set back for the Samaritan Inn and its plan to build a facility to house 40 homeless families. The Inn must now present its case to the P & Z, and then the City Council for the land use request.
Only after clearing those hurdles can it request the community development grants.
DMN - Plano council tonight weighs $700,000 land purchase for homeless shelter
Monday, August 9, 2010
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
The Plano City Council could take a major step tonight toward building one of North Texas' largest homeless shelters, a plan that triggered a fierce debate about the shelter's location.
Area of proposed Plano homeless shelter site
The City Council will consider approving the use of $700,000 in federal grant money to buy land Plano for the shelter.
The Samaritan Inn of McKinney has proposed placing the facility on six acres in east Plano.
Much of the opposition comes from businesses near the proposed site, on 14th Street near Shiloh Road.
Business owners worry that the complex will lead to higher crime rates and lower property values.
Supporters say the $4 million project is needed. While Collin County is one the country's most affluent, it has a growing homeless population. About 7 percent of Plano families live in poverty.
WFAA - Plano homeowners gripe about homeless shelter plan, CCO, Aug. 4, 2010
The real story behind Samaritan Inn in Plano, Chuck Bloom, CCO, Aug. 2, 2010
DMN - Plano weighs plan to build long-term homeless housing facility, CCO, Jul. 16, 2010
Jessica Rush does a great job in this article giving some of the background behind the Frisco City council's vote to support an application by a developer for low-income housing.
The Observer covered the story of the development proposal with media clippings. See:
- DMN - Frisco council votes to support reduced-rent apartments, Feb. 17, 2010
- DMN - Frisco affordable housing plan gains board's support but meets resistance, Feb. 12, 2010
Developer Stewart Creek LLP did not receive the tax credits needed to fund a 150-unit, low-income apartment complex in Frisco. The housing project development was competing for $9 million worth of credits against almost 30 other developments, but it was too far down on the list to receive immediate state funding. Fifty units in the 10-acre complex, North Court Villas, would have been made available for clients with Section 8 housing vouchers.
Had the Frisco Housing Trust Board not agreed to send letters of support to both Stewart Creek LLP and another developer, VDC Frisco Reserve I, LP (which withdrew its contract earlier this spring) in their goals to provide Section 8 housing, the city would likely have faced a lawsuit by the Inclusive Community Project (ICP).
“We just evaluated what ICP brought to the table, and we created an agreement with them. I think our leadership has been very proactive in addressing any shortfalls in affordable housing in Frisco,” Mayor Maher Maso said.
ICP is an organization that seeks to create and maintain thriving racially and economically inclusive communities, expand fair and affordable housing opportunities for low-income families, and improve policies that prolong the effects of discrimination.
The city of Sunnyvale recently lost its lawsuit against ICP, and both Flower Mound and McKinney are dealing with similar suits for claims they violated the federal Fair Housing Act.
ICP filed its suit against Flower Mound claiming the town has a history of zoning that excludes certain groups, and that it refuses to participate in low-income housing loan and credit programs that help create affordable low-income housing. It also asserts that area cities and towns have adopted policies to develop low-income housing. Finally, it alleges that Flower Mound’s racially discriminatory policies and practices hamper the ICP’s mission to assist families seeking to use Dallas Housing Authority’s Section 8 housing vouchers in Dallas suburbs.
So far the ICP lawsuit has cost Flower Mound more than $200,000 in legal fees, court costs, and other fees, such as those for external consultants.
In March of this year, the McKinney Housing Authority reached an agreement with ICP after more than a year of litigation, agreeing to annually request applications from qualified developers for the next five years and to pay some of ICP’s attorneys’ fees.
ICP is seeking to construct 400 apartment units in Flower Mound. Because Sunnyvale lost the lawsuit, it must build 77 low-income housing units in the city.
“We have an agreement with them [ICP] to look at the housing in Frisco and we’ve met our obligations,” Maso said.
The contract on the land on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway between Woodstream Drive and Preston Road is now still open for development.
Staff writer Chris Roark contributed to this story.
NIMBYism is alive and well in East Plano.
by GARY REAVES / WFAA
August 3, 2010
PLANO — The City of Plano got an earful from property owners Tuesday night who are upset about a proposed plan to help the homeless.
In a sign of the tough economic times, about 150 people gathered at the First United Methodist Church for a town hall meeting to talk about what to do about the growing homeless problem in one of the nation's most affluent counties.
Just about everyone agrees something must be done, but many of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting want it done somewhere else.
Plano residents kept their emotions in check, but that doesn't mean they want the proposed facility for 80 homeless families to be built in their backyard.
"This is a worthy cause, but this is the wrong site," one speaker said.
The proposed site is currently a vacant lot in east Plano. The Samaritan Inn of McKinney — the county's only homeless shelter — is seeking a federally-backed loan for the Plano property to build a facility to help homeless families get back on their feet.
The agency's McKinney shelter is swamped.
"With the decline in the economy, we have now been turning away 15 to 30 people a week because we're full," said Samaritan Inn director Lynne Sipiora.
Her organization is committed to the Plano location, but people who live nearby fear it would only hurt the value of their homes.
"I feel trapped, because I've already asked 50 people — or more — if they would be willing to buy my condo if they could see a homeless shelter out the bedroom window, and their response to me was, 'No,'" said Shari Gearhart.
Like most everyone at the meeting, Gearhart said she would support the Samaritan Inn proposal if it was located elsewhere.
But Denny James, who has been helped by the Samaritan Inn shelter, offered a reminder that many others are just a paycheck away from being homeless like he was.
"They were there," James said. "They gave my baby wet wipes and diapers and toothbrushes and stuff I just ran out of. They helped me."
Next Monday, the Plano City Council will consider the first stage of the Samaritan Inn's proposal — applying for a federal loan. After that, the organization would still have to raise more than $3 million and they'd have to settle on a final site.
One of the problems with something instantly deemed “controversial” is how the facts often get intermingled with feelings, producing an inaccurate debate when possible approval is pending. Such seems to be the case with the proposed Samaritan Inn in Plano (SIIP), which, when ALL the facts and information are presented accurately, will be seen as a positive for the city of Plano and its citizens.
The starting point for this discussion must be a realization of fact: homelessness among Collin County citizens, especially families, once doing well financially, is increasing at an alarming rate. The county has but one homeless facility – the Samaritan Inn in McKinney – and it turns away twice as many needy people as it takes it for one simple reason – the lack of space. Sadly, the Samaritan Inn is always full (with one-third of the residents being children under 17, meaning part of families).
More and more former middle class residents are in need of Samaritan Inn services than ever before – due to sliding economic/job RIF conditions. So serious is the problem of homelessness in the North Texas region that people will go to extraordinary lengths to get help, including one man who WALKED from Sherman to McKinney because he had lost his job, his home and his car. There are times when every male family head of household in Samaritan Inn possesses a college degree. The old stereotypes don’t apply anymore.
The Inn offers programs to return residents to being productive and independent members of society – with an affordable place to live and a job to sustain their independence. Such IS the goal of everyone associated with the Samaritan Inn for every person/family it accepts into the program.
Many of those families come from Plano, as well as other parts of the county, but currently, all services are McKinney-centric. It would be logical to have services provided in the county’s largest individual population center. That seemed to be the consideration by the Plano City Council when it voted unanimously to approve its five-year Consolidated Plan (2010-2014) on March 8.
In that document, on page 30, “the creation of additional shelter, supportive services, and transitional housing for homeless and under-housed” was stated as one of the city’s high priorities.
Then on July 13, the city’s Community Service Commission voted (again unanimously) to fund the $700,000 land purchase of the land (6.2 acres located just east of 14th Street and Shiloh, is currently owned by Temple Baptist Church of Allen, and not being developed) with a grant from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. This is funding outside of city-taxpayer expenditures, coming from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, earmarked for projects exactly like this. Such block grants have been part of redevelopment of urban and rural cities for decades, and not a peep has ever been sounded before because the money is returned directly to the people for good use.
At the same time, the Samaritan Inn was already working with city officials on a different CDBG block grant and the connection seemed to be natural.
“When we identified a possible site, we went back to the city and it was suggested we apply, they apply for HUD funds to purchase the property and that is how it all began,” said executive director Lynne Sipiora. “Make no mistake, the need is truly there.”
The financing does not involve a single Plano taxpayer; the city will purchase the property through the CDBG grant, donate it to the Samaritan Inn, which will, in turn, be responsible for the facility’s construction. Once it opens, operation and oversight will be done by the Inn, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, led by a board of directors consisting of many of the county’s top business and social leaders and elected officials. Not one penny comes out of the city of Plano’s budget.
Although the Samaritan Inn has been part of the fabric of Collin County for 26 years, many residents remain unaware of its services, program and purpose. First, it is NOT a faith-based charity. The Samaritan Inn receives support from a cross-section of churches, service organizations, civic groups, school groups, corporations, businesses and individuals.
It is not a burden upon county or city taxpayers; it only gets a mere 5 percent of its budget from government entities (through community block grants). The remaining 95 percent of its annual budget is garnered through private donations and fundraisers; much of the work is done by volunteers.
Here is a very important point overlooked by critics – this state-of-the-art facility WILL bring jobs to Plano; staff will be hired to work there. In addition, there will be retail sales dollars involved as supplies and non-donated groceries must be purchased, plus other monies injected into the Plano economy. The unused property in this part of Plano will become a viable entity; opposition to such a positive turn is inconceivable.
Additionally, housing Plano families locally will mean a bit of savings for Plano school district taxpayers. Currently, children who live in the PISD, but get relocated to the Samaritan Inn, can remain as PISD students and, hence, must be provided transportation to and from campuses … from McKinney. And since the school-age children to be housed at SIIP will already be enrolled in PISD schools, there is no strain on campus enrollment.
In safety terms, the Samaritan Inn is a superb neighbor in McKinney with a zero-tolerance for criminal activity of any kind. If rules (or laws) are broken, the offenders are expelled from the facility. As a result, there is almost no threat of criminal activity from the residents who understand the consequences.
This second homeless family program will coincide with a planned expansion of the McKinney facility, with the recent purchase of property near its headquarters. It will be used to relocate Samaritan Inn offices in order to add 20 rooms to accommodate more clients. And still, it won’t be enough to meet the challenge.
The future of the SIIP project will be decided in three key upcoming meetings. On Aug. 9, the council is expected to vote on the $700,000 CDBG grant request. The following week (Aug. 16), the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider rezoning the 6.2 acres from Research/Technology to Light Commercial with a Specific Use Permit for a Household Care Institution.
Finally, on Sept. 13, the council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request, pending the P&Z action.
All meetings, of course, are at City Hall, 1520 Avenue K.
So there you have it: a new facility to address an increasing problem in Plano at no cost to any taxpayers while developing unused property and eventually adding to the local economy.
It makes sense economically; more importantly, it makes sense because it directly addresses a growing need in Plano and the surrounding area. And if you don’t think it affects you, you need to take a second look around. Every foreclosed home, every shuttered business, is a possible family needing help.
And there but for the grace of God go you or I. The Samaritan Inn is trying to provide a lifeline, in Plano, when that happens.
Chuck Bloom is a former managing editor for the Plano Star-Courier and longtime Texas journalist-publisher-columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his Web site at http://chuckbloom.blogspot.com.
Lynne Sipiora: Collin County needs to shelter its homeless
Lynne Sipiora, Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn
Published in The Dallas Morning News
July 30, 2010
Five years ago come September, I accepted the position of director of the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter. In an amazing baptism by fire, my first week on the job was also the first week the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina arrived in Texas.
I remember thinking, as I walked around the mountains of laundry detergent and piles of canned goods, that public awareness and fundraising would be a cinch.
Well, I was right and I was wrong.
I was wrong because the outpouring of generosity for Katrina victims did not seem to transfer to the people who were living in their own storm of poverty every day. An act of nature is nobody's fault, but when your house is foreclosed, somehow, to some people, it is.
And I was right because an amazing group of loyal supporters have kept us going and have recognized that, even though it's not seen on the news daily, people are still suffering.
Since that September, thousands of people have passed through the Samaritan Inn and found the support they needed to become independent once again.
"Who is your typical client?" I am asked often, and the answer is always anyone and everyone.
They are 20-somethings, the middle-aged and senior citizens; they are day laborers and middle management; they have high school diplomas and advanced degrees. They are white, African-American and Hispanic. Poverty, it seems, does not discriminate.
Two of our four wings are devoted solely to families, and they have been filled continuously for the last 18 months.
Intake interviews occur daily; our waiting room is regularly packed with moms, dads, crying babies, squirming toddlers, anxious school-aged kids and humiliated teenagers. More often than not, there is no room for any of them.
We have long known we needed another facility, and Plano seemed the logical place because the majority of our residents come from Plano. The city itself committed to providing more housing for the homeless in its five-year plan. City staff agreed to submit an application for a HUD loan and use those funds to purchase property that would be donated to the Samaritan Inn. The Samaritan Inn would then commit to raising the money to construct the facility and operate it.
A piece of property was identified, and then the opposition began.
Critics said our program would increase crime and decrease property values; they said businesses would suffer and everyone who was homeless in Dallas would immediately come north.
None of these things have happened in McKinney, and we don't expect them to happen in Plano. However, we respect the concerns and have tried to address them thoughtfully and responsibly.
These are the facts: Everyone who resides at The Samaritan Inn goes through an extensive intake interview, a mental health assessment, a criminal background check and a drug test. We are not a jail, a halfway house or a drug rehabilitation center; we are a program that helps willing people regain their independence and dignity. That's our mission statement – always has been, always will be.
We don't presume to know the best location in Plano for our program, and we have absolutely no interest in the political debate, but we do know that while it's being figured out, hundreds of people in Collin County don't know where their family will sleep at night.
A moral, spiritual and civilized society takes care of one another, and that is all we hope to do.
Lynne Sipiora of McKinney is executive director of the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. A town hall meeting about the Plano shelter plan will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church, 3160 E. Spring Creek Parkway, Plano.
Homeless shelter director says need must trump Plano residents' opposition
Saturday, July 24, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
There's no room at the Samaritan Inn.
Collin County's only homeless shelter has 130 beds but needs many more, said Director Lynne Sipiora.
With the economic downtown, the shelter must turn away people day after day.
"That's the worst part," Sipiora said. "It keeps me up at night."
The shelter's solution to overcrowding: Open a second facility in Plano.
But some Plano residents and business owners immediately assailed the Samaritan Inn's proposal, announced this month, for a larger shelter near 14th Street and Shiloh Road.
Opponents charge it would lower property values and increase crime.
"This is the last thing that the east side of Plano needs," one person commented online.
Sipiora expected the opposition but isn't backing down.
If the Plano City Council rejects a zoning change to allow the proposed shelter, the Samaritan Inn will look for another site in town because of the need, she said.
"As long as I'm around, we'll be looking to expand services," Sipiora said.
She rejects the assertion that the proposed shelter, to be built in phases over several years, would harm the largely commercial east Plano neighborhood.
She points to the Samaritan Inn's track record in McKinney?. It opened in a commercial area near State Highway 5 and U.S. Highway 380 in 1984 and hasn't driven up the crime rate, said McKinney? Deputy Police Chief Scott Brewer.
"These are folks who are just in hard times," he said. "They're grateful. They're not typically going to get out and partake in criminal activity."
The shelter operates out of a converted nursing home, with five wings extending like spokes from a central monitoring station. Two wings house families, one houses men, one women and one administrative offices.
Sipiora compares the shelter to a college dormitory in terms of sights, sounds and feel. Having visited, I agree.
Each room is identical, about 16 feet square, with four bunk beds, a sink and a toilet. Common showers are in each wing. Meals are served on long folding tables.
"No frills," she said.
True, but the shelter is a huge improvement for some residents.
One woman had been living with her three young children in a mini-warehouse unit.
"I can't imagine," Sipiora said.
Other residents have been sleeping on the street or in their cars.
"They arrive shell-shocked," Sipiora said. "We're the last resort."
The Samaritan Inn produced a searing video of interviews with residents, describing their journey. It's posted on the shelter's website, www.thesamaritaninn.org.
"I never thought in a million years I'd end up in a shelter," one woman said. "I have a college degree."
The Samaritan Inn has strict rules for residents. Each must undergo a drug test and criminal background check, take mandatory classes on budgeting and parenting, meet twice weekly with a caseworker and look for a job during the day.
The average length of stay is about six months. Someone leaves, or "graduates," when they have a full-time job and have saved enough money to rent a place.
Sipiora said the proposed Plano shelter also would stress personal responsibility and push people toward self-sufficiency. It wouldn't be a place for the chronically homeless to crash for a few nights.
"I'm hoping it's a matter of education," she said. "I want to believe people will see the need and respond to it."
Plano weighs plan to build long-term homeless housing facility
Thursday, July 15, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Faced with a homeless population that has grown amid the recession, Plano is weighing a plan to build a large, first-of-its-kind campus to house indigent families.
The proposal, put forward by the Samaritan Inn of McKinney, is thought to be the largest facility of its kind in North Texas.
It would differ from other homeless shelters in that families would, for the most part, live there full-time for months and receive job and other support.
The Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, follows a similar model. But the six-acre Plano complex would offer more amenities, have a link to DART buses and house some 80 families at one time — more than twice the Inn’s capacity.
“This has long been needed in Collin County,” said Jim Malatich, the Samaritan Inn’s director of operations. “We’re excited about the project.”
Civic leaders say the $3.8 million endeavor, which has advanced quietly until now, is critical at a time when poverty is on the rise, even in affluent Collin County.
But controversy is already brewing over the project’s location, scope and possible impact on Plano, particularly the community’s poorer eastern side.
The Inn has proposed a site in an eastside technology district that the city formed years ago to attract the kinds of Fortune 500 companies that dot Plano’s affluent western side.
“A lot of us have put years of service into revitalization efforts,” said Katherine Brewer, who owns a mapping company near the proposed campus. “I see all of the hard work to turn around all of east Plano going down the drain.”
City Hall also is considering the unusual step of giving the project $700,000 in federal grant monies, with the Samaritan Inn repaying the city the interest it would have earned on that amount.
Organizers filed paperwork for the complex late last week, but discussions with the city began in the spring, project officials said.
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer said the city has not yet decided whether to approve the loan or zoning changes required. But project officials say they expect a final City Council vote sometime in September.
Social services advocates have long pushed for additional facilities for the homeless somewhere in Collin County. Despite its vast and growing population of 800,000 people, Collin has few housing options for the indigent.
In Plano, the number of families living on incomes of less than $25,000 has grown some 18 percent since 1999. That growth has intensified during the recession.
Plano City Council member Harry LaRosiliere said the facility “speaks to the reality of what’s going on in America, Texas and Plano.”
“The economic conditions that many people are facing are real. For us to ignore it would be a disservice to those experiencing those difficulties. Whether we do something or not, they are there.”
Some reputations you don't want.
Some you're afraid you may deserve.
For as long as I remember, Collin County has endured being criticized as the refuge of the self indulgent new rich - famous for its thousands cookie cutter McMansions, Hummers, and sushi bars, but lacking both culture and noblesse oblige.
The telecom bust of the 80's tarnished Collin's gilt lustre and for a time it appeared as if we would shed our image of parvenuian invincibility. Not so.
Not even the current recession with its accompanying unemployment and scenes of McMansions being sold at the courthouse steps has slowed our fascination with very visible excess.
Witness the latest from the tony Village of Fairview, where the average home is valued at $356,751 --
Fox News reports that there is a new movie theatre opening there in May. In iconic Collin County excess, theatre goers will be able to sample fast food such as "Maine lobster rolls followed by roasted portobello sliders and a nice gewürztraminer" along with the movie. Viewers will sit in one of only forty plush recliners which feature call buttons for food, bar or pillow service.
All for only $22 a seat, plus food and drinks. Sorry, but good taste is not on the menu.
On Monday night, the Collin County Commissioners Court is scheduled to discuss and pass a "Resolution In Support of the Texas Attorney General and Texas Legislature in opposition to the Federal Healthcare Reform Bill."
Seeing the resolution as political posturing, David Smith, the Democratic candidate for County Judge questions, "Why is the Collin County Commissioners Court spending their time on a national issue? Why not focus on the county business [they] were elected to handle?"
In a "Talking Points" email sent to supporters, Smith, argues that the Healthcare Reform Act is in the best interest of the county since it will shift the burden of indigent healthcare from the county to federally funded Medicaid. He writes that, "The national bill recently signed into law will raise the Medicaid eligibility threshold to 133% of FPL If we can get them enrolled in Medicaid quickly enough, EVERYBODY in the county indigent health care program can have their care paid by Medicaid rather than the county."
In his email, Smith makes these points:
"- The current threshold for Medicaid eligibility is 26% of federal poverty level (FPL) income.
- The current threshold for Collin County indigent health care eligibility is 100% of FPL income.
- Collin County currently picks up health care costs for people in the 26-100% range
(as well as below 26% pending Medicaid enrollment - but that's another story.)
- The national bill recently signed into law will raise the Medicaid eligibility threshold to 133% of FPL."
The commissioners resolution reads:
Collin County spends millions each year on indigent health care, which is funded with moneys held in the county's Healthcare Trust Fund. The Trust Fund, was originally funded in 1983, with the proceeds from the sale of the county's public hospital. Current projections are that the Trust Fund will run out of money in 2014. At that time, without federal help, all indigent care will have to be paid for with county tax dollars.
Smith, who does not take a position in support of the Healthcare Reform Act, charges that, "The Collin County Commissioners Court would rather play national partisan politics than tend to county business. Any commissioner support of AG Abbott's initiative is a blatant example of ideological impairment, preventing them from realizing that Abbott is actually seeking to cement in millions of dollars of future county costs that will otherwise go away."
The commissioners court will meet at 6:00 PM this Monday evening at the Prosper Municipal Chambers, Prosper City Hall, 121 W. Broadway, Prosper, Tx. The public is invited attend and to comment.
The Observer comments:
It seems to me to be both ironic and a bit unseemly for bureaucrats, who are recipients of a lush taxpayer supported health insurance plan to be fighting so hard to deny a much less generous policy to those who can not afford health insurance.
For $10/month, commissioners are granted a plan with only a $500 annual deductible. A majority of the sitting commissioners have received taxpayer supported health benefits for most of their adult lives.
Yet, over 20% of Collin County residents are uninsured. Many work for employers who in the past would have offered group coverage, but most low wage jobs no longer offer insurance, or when it is offered, it is too expensive and comes with huge deductibles.
I read an interesting article this week on the opposition to the federal plan. A local civic leader (and McKinney City Councilman) was complaining about the new law. This so called 'leader' went on to state that he employed over 125 people in the 8 companies he owned, but only offered insurance benefits to a "few key employees".
The rest of his employees are a missed paycheck or two from needing public assistance if they need any medical help. I imagine that one of them could afford healthcare in the event of catastrophic illness.
Those who are loudly opposing the Healthcare Reform Act have insurance. Some are paid for by you, the taxpayers.
The commissioners resolution is mere pandering. They have insurance. The less privileged can "eat cake", while their taxes pay for the commissioners' healthcare.
The Dallas Morning News' Valerie Wigglesworth, writing in the Frisco Blog fills us in on the latest developments to bring a low income housing project to Frisco:
Sat, Apr 03, 2010
Valerie Wigglesworth, Reporter / The Dallas Morning News
One developer remains in the running for the state's housing tax credit program to build a low-income apartment complex in Frisco, according to a city news release.
Stewart Creek LLP completed all the paperwork with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for the proposed 150-unit North Court Villas complex on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway just east of Woodstream Drive. The other developer, VDC Frisco Reserve I LP, has withdrawn from the process. It was proposing to build 200 units near Bicentennial Park at McKinney? Road and Sunset Drive.
The Stewart Creek project is one of 28 developments competing for $9 million in tax credits available this year to urban areas in Texas' Region 3, which includes Frisco and the Dallas area, according to the state log of applications (Region 3 applications start on page 4). Based on self-rankings by developers, the Frisco project ranks 27th out of 28th.
If the Frisco project is approved, it will also be eligible for $2 million in a low-interest loan from the Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project as part of an agreement with the city of Frisco. Under the agreement, 50 units of the complex would be made available first to certain Dallas Housing Authority clients with Section 8 vouchers.
That controversial agreement has drawn lots of opposition from Frisco residents. It also spurred the formation of a Facebook group called Frisco Resident's [sic] Against Section 8 Housing in Frisco, TX, which has 257 fans.
From a City of Frisco press release:
(April 2, 2010) The City of Frisco has received notification from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs that one developer has submitted a completed application for the 2010 Competitive Housing Tax Credit (HTC) program for a proposed low income housing complex in Frisco.
The developer, Stewart Creek, LLP, submitted the completed application for the proposed North Court Villas complex. The proposed complex would be built on 10 acres on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway between Woodstream Drive and Preston Road. The project is now one of 28 developments competing for the $10 million in tax credits available this year to Texas’ Region 3. The total amount requested for the 28 projects submitted is $41 million. Based on a self-ranking submitted by developers with their completed HTC applications, the North Court Villas development is currently ranked 27th out of the 28 projects in line for funding.
If Stewart Creek, LLP's development is awarded funds from the HTC program, then the developer will also be eligible for $2 million in grant money from the Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (ICP) through an agreement with the City of Frisco. Under the ICP agreement, developers must set aside 50 units or 25 percent of the complex’s units, whichever is greater, for Section 8 vouchers. North Court Villas would have 50 units available for Section 8 voucher holders.
In February, the Frisco City Council approved requests from Stewart Creek, LLP and a second developer, VDC Frisco Reserve I, LP, for letters of support to submit with their 2010 Housing Tax Credit Applications. The council submitted letters on behalf of both developers; however, VDC Frisco Reserve I, LP has withdrawn from the process to compete for funds for a proposed complex near the intersection of McKinney? Road and Sunset Drive.
Residents may voice their opinions about the proposed development when the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs holds a public hearing on Wednesday, April 14 at 6:00 p.m. The meeting will be in the auditorium of the J. Erik Johnson Central Library, located at 1515 Young Street in downtown Dallas.
Residents may also submit written comments through June 15. Comments should be mailed to:
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
Multifamily Finance Division
P.O. Box 13941
Austin, TX 78711
The Department of Housing and Community Affairs will also accept written comments by fax: (512) 475-0764, or email: Raquel.firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about proposed low income/Section 8 housing in Frisco online at FriscoTexas.gov/affordablehousing.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs board is expected to decide which projects to fund in July.
Collin County at bottom of federal funds distribution
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Collin County, known for its corporate headquarters and explosive growth, has a new distinction: The county reportedly receives the smallest amount of federal funds per person among the country's 200 largest counties.
A Brookings Institution report released this week looked at 2008 federal spending tied to the census in an effort to understand how the upcoming count will affect the distribution of more than $400 billion from federal programs. The bulk of federal assistance goes to states through grants for low-income households and highway infrastructure. States' per-capita funding is tied to income inequalities of high pay and high poverty, Medicaid income limits and the percentage of rural population.
Collin County didn't receive much federal money largely because it doesn't have an income disparity that pulls those funds, said Andrew Reamer, who authored the report. The county got $182 per person in 2008. Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, received the most funding per person at $6,032.
"In wealthier counties, people don't use Medicaid, so they aren't likely to benefit," Reamer said.
Medicaid alone makes up almost 60 percent of federal assistance spending. The low-income health program accounts for most of Collin County's funding, as well. But these services are less utilized than in Texas counties of similar size, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state's health and human services commission.
Collin County, which has a 6 percent poverty rate, has 31,064 people enrolled in Medicaid. El Paso County, with roughly the same population, has 133,079 in the program. Hidalgo County has 195,559.
That doesn't mean residents can slough off the upcoming census, Reamer said. "If Collin County is undercounted, it may not get its fair share from the state of Texas," he said, pointing to both fiscal and political ramifications. Businesses uses census data to identify markets, and an inaccurate count could lead to mistakes in investment, he said. The data will also be used to draw new legislative boundaries.
The 2010 census may also reveal just how short-lived the county's current distinction is, said Terry Clower, director of economic development and research at the University of North Texas. The county is becoming "more income diverse," he said.
Frisco council votes to support reduced-rent apartments
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
More than 100 people turned out Tuesday to voice opposition to two proposed apartment complexes in Frisco.
The planned complexes are dependent on acceptance into the state's Housing Tax Credit program, which provides federal tax incentives to developments with rents at below-market rates.
The complexes also would set aside a certain number of units for Section 8 voucher-holders from the Dallas Housing Authority.
Late into Tuesday night, the City Council discussed the projects and spent more than an hour in executive session consulting with the city’s attorney. Just before midnight, the council voted 4-to-1 to write letters supporting the projects to the state, which will decide in July which projects get funded. City support is key in the developers’ applications to the state for funding.
“This is about providing low-income housing and a plan to get us there,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Bob Allen.
Several council members said that residents had some valid concerns about impacts to traffic, utilities and schools. They also noted that the projects were too early in the process to have answers but that the developers would be held to Frisco’s high standards.
Council member Bart Crowder said he believed that some of the fears from residents about the projects were greatly overstated and he believed the agreement with Inclusive Communities Project was appropriate.
Council member Scott Johnson, who cast the sole vote against the letters of support, said he heard lots of reasons why the projects weren’t a good fit for the city. “I have yet to hear why they’re good for the community,” he said. “On this day and this issue, I choose principle over pragmatism. This is not something I support.”
The proposed projects are part of a three-year agreement with the nonprofit Inclusive Communities Project that the City Council approved in October 2008.
In return for making the units available to Dallas clients first, the nonprofit is giving the city $2 million that will be passed on to the developers as low-interest loans to build their projects.
The agreement with Inclusive Communities Project is the first of its kind in North Texas. The nonprofit made similar offers to other cities. Frisco was the only one to accept. The responses from Flower Mound and McKinney prompted lawsuits by Inclusive Communities Project. Flower Mound's suit is pending. McKinney is working out a settlement.
In response to residents' concerns, the city of Frisco posted background about the agreement on its Web site in recent days. As part of the written explanation, City Manager George Purefoy states:
"If Frisco had not negotiated the agreement with ICP, then the likely outcome would have been a federal lawsuit. After 14 months of litigation, the McKinney? Housing Authority is negotiating a settlement agreement with ICP which establishes the same general parameters as the Frisco agreement, except it includes a longer-term agreement (5 years vs. 3 years) and it pays some of ICP's attorneys' fees."
Several residents at Tuesday's meeting said they were willing to pay for the legal fight.
"We are letting the threat of a lawsuit determine what will happen in the city of Frisco," resident Sotirios "Chris" Tsongas said.
Some of the council members said late in the meeting that the threat of a lawsuit did not factor into their decision to contract with the Inclusive Communities Project.
“This is about what’s in the best interest of the city,” Mayor Maher Maso said.
"If Dallas can't handle its own problem, it shouldn't become Frisco's," Frisco resident Dody Brigadier said. "I've never known any Texan to back down from a fight, and here you are."
Betsy Julian, president of Inclusive Communities Project, declined to comment about Tuesday's proceedings.
Residents' concerns about the projects ranged from possible increases in crime to decreases in property values. They were concerned about the ability of nearby roads to handle the traffic from such large complexes. And they were concerned about what the projects would mean to the school system.
The projects are competing for funding through the state's Housing Tax Credit program. It's a competitive process. Developers in the Dallas region have applied for more than $92 million in tax credits for 60 projects. The state has about $10 million available for the region this year.
Developers for the two Frisco projects both admitted Tuesday that they weren't high on the state's project rankings.
"We don't think the odds are great, but we do love Frisco and would love to build in Frisco," said Chris Applequist with San Antonio-based Versa Development Co., which proposes building 200 units on more than 12 acres near Bicentennial Park.
The other project, by Songhai Development Co., proposes building 150 units on 10 acres on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway east of Woodstream.
Julian said last week that she believed there would be plenty of interest from Dallas Housing Authority clients wanting to live in Frisco. They are part of the so-called Walker Settlement, which stems from a 1985 lawsuit over black residents' being forced to live for decades in segregated slums in Dallas.
That settlement has allowed thousands of black families to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. It also created the Walker Project to promote fair housing and support the class members. In 2004, the Walker Project became the Inclusive Communities Project.
From a City of Frisco
City Creates Informational Web Page About Proposed Affordable Housing
The following information is distributed from the City of Frisco's News and Information service.
Tonight, February 16, 2010, the Frisco City Council will consider an agenda item related to proposed low income housing developments in Frisco.
The City of Frisco has created a web page that shares a brief history outlining some significant events and/or programs related to affordable housing in Frisco.
To find out more, go to www.friscotexas.gov Click on ‘Communication’ and
then ‘Proposed Low Income/Sect. 8’
Also see - DMN - Frisco affordable housing plan gains board's support but meets resistance
Valerie Wigglesworth at The Dallas Morning News has written a top-flight article and then followed up with a blog post full of resources for anyone wanting to follow the debate on the need to build affordable (including Section 8) housing in Frisco.
Friday, February 12, 2010
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
In a first of its kind effort, Frisco is helping developers build affordable housing with money from a nonprofit in Dallas.
The catch: The partnership with Inclusive Communities Project Inc. requires some of the low-income apartments be available first to certain Dallas Housing Authority clients with Section 8 vouchers.
That has some people in this affluent suburb concerned.
"How does this help residents of Frisco?" asked Mark Walsh, who raised concerns in an e-mail to his neighbors. "It's helping Dallas Housing Authority people to move to Frisco."
Betsy Julian, president of the nonprofit, said Dallas residents want what everyone wants: attractive communities with amenities, good schools and low crime rates. Frisco fits that bill.
"Our mission is to promote healthy inclusive communities, and if there's no affordable housing, it's not an inclusive community," she said.
The two apartment complexes proposed on vacant lots in Frisco are dependent on acceptance into the state's Housing Tax Credit program. The competitive program provides federal tax incentives for developments with rents at below-market rates. Developers in the Dallas region have applied for more than $92 million in tax credits for 60 projects. The state has about $10 million available for the region this year.
On Wednesday, the Frisco Housing Trust Fund Board voted 3-1 to recommend that the City Council send letters in support of the projects to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Its board will vote in July which projects to fund.
Frisco housing board member Shannon Kackley voted against.
"I want to make sure we do what's best for our citizens," Kackley said. "This is mainly for Dallas residents."
He said after the meeting he was concerned about the potential influx of people who may or may not have jobs and who may need extra services that the city can't provide.
City Manager George Purefoy said the City Council approved the agreement with Inclusive Communities Project in 2008 after two years of negotiations.
"The council thought this was in the best interests of the city," he told the housing board, adding that the two developers meet all the criteria. "I urge you to approve them."
Julian told the board it was unlikely that people with jobs in Dallas would commute from Frisco. She said it's more likely that people who find lower-paying jobs in Frisco would want to live there.
"I'm very confident there will be interest," she said.
Julian's group approached several cities in 2007 about creating affordable housing for low-income families.
"Frisco stepped up in a proactive way and acknowledged the need for workforce housing," Julian said.
The responses from Flower Mound and McKinney prompted civil suits from the group. The McKinney case is in the process of being settled. The Flower Mound case is pending.
Last fall, the nonprofit sued Sunnyvale over what it said were the city's discriminatory practices in affordable housing. The group also has a suit pending against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the Section 8 program that provides rent subsidies to low-income families.
The agreement with Frisco calls for the Inclusive Communities Project to give $2 million to the city, which in turn would loan it to developers at low interest rates to build projects approved through the state's tax-credit program.
In return, 50 units or 25 percent of the development – whichever is greater – would be offered first to Dallas Housing Authority clients who are part of the so-called Walker Settlement. It stems from a 1985 lawsuit over black residents being forced to live for decades in segregated slums in Dallas.
That settlement has allowed thousands of black families to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. It also created The Walker Project to promote fair housing and support the class members. In 2004, The Walker Project became the Inclusive Communities Project.
Incentive to build
The low-interest loans are an incentive to build in Frisco, said Dru Childre, whose Songhai Development Co. put in an application.
The Austin-based company is proposing to build the 150-unit North Court Villas on 10 acres on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway east of Woodstream Drive.
"These deals are very expensive," Childre said. The loan "shows that the city realizes they have a need for affordable housing, and it shows they support good reputable developers coming to the city."
The second project, proposed by San Antonio-based Versa Development, is the 200-unit Residences at Frisco on 13 acres near Bicentennial Park.
Both projects would have income restrictions for tenants. They would also offer tenant services ranging from financial planning to tutoring. Amenities would include a swimming pool, fitness center and computer learning center.
Julian said the ultimate goal is to help families get into decent housing.
"We just keep trying to remove barriers as we find them," she said. "We're cautiously optimistic that one or both of these developments could get done in Frisco this year
Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
Valerie Wigglesworth/Reporter / The Dallas Morning News Frisco Blog
In a first of its kind effort, Frisco is helping developers build affordable housing with money from a nonprofit in Dallas. The catch: The partnership with Inclusive Communities Project Inc. requires some of the low-income apartments be available first to certain Dallas Housing Authority clients with Section 8 vouchers. That has some people in Frisco concerned. Click here to read the rest of my story in today's newspaper.
The Frisco City Council approved the agreement with the Inclusive Communities Project at its Oct. 8, 2008, meeting. Click here for video of the meeting and documents related to the agreement (agenda item #41).
The two apartment complexes being proposed are on vacant lots in Frisco (see map above). One is on the south side of Stonebrook Parkway just east of Woodstream Drive; the second is near McKinney Road and Sunset just north of Bicentennial Park. Both projects are dependent on acceptance into the state's Housing Tax Credit program. The competitive program provides federal tax incentives for developments with rents at below-market rates.
Read the developers' pre-applications:
Click here for the North Court Villas on Stonebrook Parkway
Click here for the Residences at Frisco at McKinney and Sunset
What's next: The City Council will consider whether to send letters of support for the projects to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which oversees the Housing Tax Credit program.
Public hearings will be held around the state in April on the Housing Tax Credit program applicants. The Dallas hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 14. Written comments will also be accepted. Click here for details.
The board for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs will decide in July which projects will receive tax credits. Click here to see a list of pre-applications. Applications are due March 1.
Worth noting: There was some concern that these apartment complexes would rent units to clients with the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, which works with the Dallas Housing Authority to find homes for ex-offenders. The TORI program uses only project-based Section 8 housing, which means the rental subsidy is tied to the apartment. The apartments in Frisco are not set up that way and would not be an option for TORI clients.
link to post on The Dallas Morning News Frisco Blog....
Collin ISDs find redrawing attendance zones is thankless task
Monday, December 7, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
Efforts to redraw school attendance zones in Plano have fueled a furor that has shifted with the prevailing wind.
First, some parents blasted district officials for drawing lines they said segregated rich from poor. Others complained their children wouldn't be able to attend their neighborhood school. When administrators responded by redrawing the lines, a new set of perturbed parents emerged and assailed school leaders.
While the debate in Plano this fall has been especially contentious, these high-drama episodes play out almost every year. And one thing is inevitable: When the boundaries are finalized, someone goes home unhappy.
"No matter the district, it's a challenging process," said Richard Wilkinson, the Frisco ISD's assistant superintendent for facilities and finance. "We do know that as hard as we try, we can't please everyone all the time."
For evidence, look no farther than Collin County, where the population has skyrocketed and districts such as Frisco have opened up to six new schools a year to keep up with a steady surge in enrollment.
Each new school needs students, and those students have to come from the existing schools.
Last year in Allen, the opening of two new elementary schools brought an angry response from parents who didn't want their children to move. Doing so could mean longer bus rides, or separation from friends.
"People like the schools they are in," said Tim Carroll, spokesman for the Allen school district. "It's a personal issue, and they don't like change."
Usually it's the parents – not the children – who are most upset about possible boundary adjustments, said McKinney ISD Superintendent Tom Crowe.
"The parents, they just get real nervous about it," he said. "But the kids adjust so quickly."
In McKinney, school boundaries controversy is constant, seemingly by design. The district places such a high value on balancing the socioeconomic levels of secondary students that it uses busing to achieve it.
An online petition against that policy has hundreds of signatures but, so far, has been to no avail. However, McKinney school leaders will soon try to decide whether the policy should remain in place as enrollment climbs.
"That will be the question to answer in the future," said Crowe, who is retiring at the end of the month. "But I think diversity in schools is good for many reasons."
The proposed boundary changes in Plano have sparked vitriolic debate that has divided neighborhoods. The district presented a first set of district wide adjustments in October to account for students moving into the district's eastern side and two new schools there.
During the three-month saga, the most vocal opponents of Plano's plans might have played a role in district leaders' decision to alter them.
Meanwhile, a large group of central Plano parents rallied against boundary models that would have made their children change high schools. Last month, the district presented a new attendance zone option that kept those children in the same schools.
Dora Potluri, who has two sons at Mathews Elementary School, said he voiced concern over the earlier models because his sons had already had to change schools once before.
"Enough is enough, and sometimes we feel that we were rezoned way too many times," Potluri said. "I wanted to bring stability to my kids that I didn't have."
Plano ISD's new attendance zones have brought relief to Potluri and his neighbors. But they have attracted animosity from hundreds of east Plano parents who say their children now would be shortchanged.
"I know that some people are frustrated," said Superintendent Doug Otto. "It saps the strength out of all the parents and teachers and all of us. It's something that we are really going to have to find a resolution for."
Erica Johnson has something to say about the redistricting battle going on in the eastern part of the Plano Independent School District.
Although she lives in Parker, which is in the affluent portion of the area, she has been active in trying to drum up support for a school zone plan that will balance the Middle and High School student demographics in the East Plano area. "It's about doing the right thing", she says.
Monday, she took her campaign to the county commissioners' court. While admitting that the court had no jurisdiction in school rezoning, she told the commissioners that she wanted them to understand the importance of the issues. I heard her presentation, and thought it worth posting on the Collin County Observer.
With her permission, below is the text of Erica Johnson's comments to the Collin County Commissioners' Court.
What is going on with PISD?
The district is building two schools in the east cluster, a middle school (Otto) that opens fall 2010 and a high school (McMillen) that opens 2011. Conflicts will always arise whenever there is discussion of new school boundaries, but it's a little different this time. Plano is now an aging city, and the areas that used to be small pockets of poverty that were easily absorbed into a school are now widespread serious depressions of poverty.
When the new middle school opens, we will have four on the east side. Two will go to the older high school (Williams) and two will go to the new high school (McMillen). The district planned all along to put the two affluent schools together at the new school and the two older lower income schools at the old high school. This was the plan even before the bond was passed. Promises were made to the more affluent neighborhoods that if they supported this bond, they would get the new schools. This group of parents has been anxiously awaiting these promised schools, many because they can't wait to get out of Williams High School with its perceived bad reputation and older less desirable neighborhood.
Here's the problem. If you put the two poor high schools together, you have in effect segregated 90% of the east side Hispanic population. You will also have segregated 92% of the economically disadvantaged into one school. The district would like us to believe that they must do this in order to maintain a "neighborhood school" philosophy, but there are many problems with that argument. One of the two middle schools slated to go to the new high school is equidistant between the old and the new high school. There are many neighborhoods that do NOT attend the middle or high schools closer to their home. Everyone can agree that the elementary school is what serves as a "neighborhood school", but because of the way Plano is laid out, most leave their immediate neighborhoods to attend middle, high and senior high schools.
Here's a few more glaring examples of the district applying the "neighborhood school" philosophy when it suits them, and affecting segregation when it does not.
- 6 years ago, when the new Murphy Middle School opened, a large and vocal group of parents fought their way out of their neighborhood school (Armstrong) and into Murphy Middle. They had been feeding into Armstrong Middle, but the district allowed the Stinson elementary to feed into the further Murphy Middle, which opened at over capacity with portables and left Armstrong Middle way under. Today, Murphy has 1492 (capacity 1312) students and Armstrong has 773 (capacity 1177) and is currently rated academically unacceptable. When Stinson was still at Armstrong, it was rated recognized, by the way.
- Mendenhall Elementary. There are two buses, paid for by the district, that leave from the neighborhood zoned for Mendenhall. One bus full of white children goes to Aldridge Elementary, not even an east cluster school. Another bus full of Hispanic children goes to Mendenhall, which according to this year's free and reduced lunch figures is at 82% economically disadvantaged. Aldridge is at 16%.
- Children in a trailer park almost within sight of Hunt elementary in Murphy are bussed all the way across Parker to Hickey elementary.
- There is a trailer park that is literally across the field from the new middle school (Otto), yet they will be bussed all the way to Armstrong Middle School.
If one was a conspiracy theorist, one might see a pattern of removing the poor Hispanic children out of the Murphy and East Richardson schools and putting them anywhere else.
The district appointed a committee to look at the realignment and issue a recommendation. When it became apparent that the committee was not going to recommend the way they had intended, the school board disbanded the committee and is now conducting "research" to determine the best solution. There is no longer any oversight, accountability or public input. This decision is going to be made by a group of elected officials, only two of them who have children in the district, and at least one of whom has been quite vocal about telling the Murphy/East Richardson contingent that they have nothing to worry about, because the decision to keep them all together in the new schools has already been made.
The future of our children, communities and even the city of Plano is at stake, and no one is listening to us.
The Dallas Morning News' Plano Blog has been covering the continuing debate over drawing school boundary lines in east Plano. The trustees are faced with difficult decisions, and they know the parents are watching.
Presently, McKinney ISD buses middle school students in order to balance the demographic makeup of its schools. Plano trustees are trying to balance the socio-economic disparity that exists between older schools in inner East Plano and the newer schools in more affluent suburban neighborhoods.
The DMN's Matthew Haag wrote a very nice piece in the Plano Blog yesterday describing the latest idea for achieving balance while still maintaining the concept of neighborhood schools.
Plano ISD trustees weighing whether socioeconomic factors should be used in drawing school boundaries spent more time this morning on another topic: magnet schools.
Trustee Missy Bender said Plano ISD is at a crossroads. Student enrollment has mostly plateaued, she said, but pockets of Plano have seen aging housing and an influx of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. At schools in those areas, Plano ISD has focused on putting the right set of principals, while also adding needed resources.
That system has worked so far, but Bender and other trustees wondered if Plano ISD could reach a point where doing only that isn't enough to address students' academic needs. So, Bender told fellow trustees John Muns and Duncan Webb, she thinks Plano ISD has three options in drawing the school boundaries.
"This is a defining moment for the district," she said. "I don't think there is a silver-bullet answer."
She said that the district can stay the course, where Plano ISD has tried to assign students to nearby schools. But the overall goal has always been to make sure enrollment figures across Plano's schools are balanced, she said.
The second option, she told the trustees, is to keep the current system but add a magnet school that parents could choose to send their children to. This model has been used at Richardson High School. Students who live nearby go to Richardson High School, but it also offers magnet courses that attract students from across Richardson ISD.
Under that system, such a hybrid magnet school would attract high-achieving students and blend them with students who live in the neighborhood. But trustees wondered if that type of magnet school could work in Plano ISD. Richardson High School has four grade levels, while Plano, of course, has high schools and senior high schools.
"Our system isn't setup like that," Webb said.
But Bender said that Plano ISD could try to perfect this magnet model. If it's done right, she said, it could become an example of what other districts should follow.
"We always talk about doing less traditional things," Bender said. "We have a chance to take that further."
Muns added that Plano would have to make sure there's a demand for this type of school. Attendance would likely be voluntary, so would children show up to specialize in automotive repair, engineering or music, Muns asked.
A third option for drawing the boundaries is to do them based on socioeconomic factors. Mari McGowan, an attorney for Plano ISD, told trustees that the district shouldn't draw such a boundary in just one part of town.
McGowan? said those boundaries would have apply across the district.
"A uniform process is always advisable," McGowan? said.
Webb said he thought those boundaries could cause excess transportation costs and additional busing to ensure diverse students are spread among the district's schools.
The board members then explained three magnet school options they had researched. In Coppell, the district started New Tech High, a school where student learning is driven by projects. (The DMN's Katherine Leal Unmuth wrote about the school last April.)
"It was incredibly exciting," Muns said.
Trustees and deputy superintendent Danny Modisette said the New Tech High model is based on only having 400 to 500 students. Plano high schools, however, enroll thousands of students. But Modisette said that the company that provides the curriculum, training of teachers and model for New Tech High is looking to bring the concept to a bigger schools.
The next magnet opportunity discussed was the one at Richardson High School, where students can specialize in anything from communications to science. As I wrote earlier, the school is also attended by children who live nearby.
The last magnet model discussed was one recently implemented in Spring ISD near Houston. The district started Wunsche High, a school focused on providing numerous career paths students can follow. The school doesn't look like one from outside. It looks much more like a professional office building, and that's on purpose.
At Wunsche, for example, a student would take medical courses there but go back to his/her home school for extracurricular activities or math and English. Bender said the school has generated a lot of energy in that district and has been full since it started three years ago.
The trustees seemed excited about at least looking into the possibility of adding a magnet school in Plano ISD, so I would expect them to further discuss the idea in future meetings.
"There is no one best way to do it," Bender said.
The trustees then closed the open portion of the meeting to discuss the boundary changes with McGown?, the attorney. Trustees aren't expected to vote on the boundary changes until December.
Today he posted an excellent overview of the candidates lining up for the run for County District Attorney
The race for the next Collin County District Attorney is gaining momentum. Yesterday, on the courthouse steps, former judge Greg Willis announced he is running for the soon to be vacant spot.
Greg resigned his former position as County Court Six Judge in order to run for District Attorney. Greg is a former Collin County prosecutor and also private practice attorney.
His announcement places him in the running with several other candidates who have also publicly announced their intentions to run.
K. Jefferson Bray (Jeff Bray), announced his intentions to run for District Attorney. Jeff is currently the senior legal adviser for Plano PD, and former Collin and Dallas County prosecutor. He has a website, www.brayforda.com detailing his plans for the office.
James "Jimmy" Angelino has also been public about his intentions to run for District Attorney. Jimmy is a former Dallas police officer, and former Denton prosecutor. He is currently in private practice.
J. Eric Reed has also announced he intends to run for District Attorney. Eric is an attorney in private practice, and former Dallas prosecutor, and former Special Asst. US Attorney.
Rafael de la Garza has also been public about his intentions to become Collin County's District Attorney. Rafael is a former Dallas prosecutor current private practice attorney. He has a website www.delagarzaforda.com detailing his plans for office.
link to story on Frisco DWI Lawyer and Attorney Blog....
While the commissioners frequently bemoan the fact that citizen attendance at these special evening sessions are sparse, three items on the agenda will likely cause a number of taxpayers to attend.
Last month, the commissioners, acting as the Health Care Trust Fund Trustees placed an item on their agenda that would add more grant restrictions to the nonprofit indigent clinics. The restrictions would require the clinics to only be paid to serve those whose incomes fall below 100% of the federal poverty line (approx. $20,020/yr for a family of 4).
After the Collin County Observer and many citizens objected to the proposed new rules, in part because there was no chance for citizen input, the commissioners voted to postpone consideration until this evening's meeting.
The county presently doles out a total of about $200,000/yr to 9 nonprofit organizations that operate clinics or health care services for the poor in the county. For the last 2 years, the grant funding has been reduced from the $300,000 high granted in 2007.
The county is required by law and the Texas Constitution to be the "provider of last resort" for the indigent, and to meet those requirements, the county operates a "County Indigent Health Care Program (CIHCP) The restrictions for entry into CIHCP are stringent, requiring a 19 page application and verification of all income, assets and insurability. In fact the restrictions are so severe that in 2008, only 207 Collin County applicants were approved for CIHCP.
Collin County also funds a program that allows uninsured citizens whose incomes are below 100% of FPL to get primary care at any PrimaCare clinic for a $20 copay. For fiscal 2009, the county has budgeted $300,000 for the PrimaCare program. In fiscal 2008, the county paid for over 2,300 low income patient visits to PrimaCare.
The third county indigent health care program is the grants (now called "fee for service") to the nonprofit clinics. In 2009, the county paid these clinics from $25 to $50 for each qualified patient seen. For the first half of FY 2009, the county has paid the 9 clinics about $72,000 in the Fee for Service program. These clinics see hundreds of patients every week.
Prior to 2007, the county simply awarded a specific dollar amount grant to the nonprofits based on their needs and request. In 2007 however, the county changed from a grant to a fee basis. The county requires each clinic to report the name, address, last 4 digits of the Social Security number and a diagnosis code for each patient for whom the clinic is asking for county funding.
Most nonprofits strenuously objected to the 2007 changes, citing increased workload and patient confidentiality. Two of the clinics subsequently refused county funding because of patient confidentiality concerns.
Presently, the nonprofit clinics set their own admission and fee schedules. Most require that patients seeking low cost care only be uninsured, and not eligible for public health care assistance. The 2010 county proposal would force the clinics to change their admission criteria and to document income.
Supporters of the clinics note that the nonprofits provide the most economical health care service available to uninsured residents. While the county pays $210 to PrimaCare? for each patient visit, it only gives the nonprofit clinics between $35 and $50 for each visit.
In 2005, the Commissioners Court appointed a 25 member citizen task force to study the need for indigent health care programs. That committee met for over 18 months and issued its report in 2006. One key recommendation by the task force was to increase the grants program to nonprofits to between $500,000 and $800,000. The task force noted that while the CIHCP attempted to serve the hard core indigent, the clinics were serving the 'working poor' - those who because of the rising cost of insurance were not able to afford health care, even though they worked.
Also on the court's agenda for tonight is a request by Catholic Charities to open a "Homeless Prevention" office in Collin County. The office would attempt to help those recently unemployed, underemployed and families who were in imminent danger of becoming homeless. The Catholic Charity operation would be run at no cost to the county or taxpayers as it is funded by the United Way and federal and state grants. The program would provide over $1 million in benefits to the 9 county region.
State funding through the Texas Department of Housing requires that the local counties served give formal approval to allow the opening of the local office. Twice now, the commissioners' court has declined to approve the Catholic Charities request. Instead the court has asked for more information.
Some on the court have, in the past, expressed reservations on allowing federal, state or charitable funds to be spent on the poor in the county fearing that as The Dallas Morning News reported in 2005 on Commissioner Hoagland's concern, "he worries the grants will cause more homeless people to move to Plano. He said many problems in Dallas and other cities can be attributed to the homeless population." The DMN also reported that "he said the goal of trying to end homelessness is too large. He said the homeless have always been around and always will be."
In 2005 the issue was using federal dollars to fund apartments and a case manager for up to 8 mentally ill patients who would otherwise be homeless and unsupervised.
I hope that attitude is not what is holding up the Catholic Charities request.
The third item on tonight's agenda is to consider moving the alignment of the south-eastern leg of the Outer Loop. The part of the loop in question is between SH 6 and the Rockwall county line. The county staff sand consultants are recommending that a section be moved to avoid impacting the High Meadow Estates project in Josephine. The proposed realignment will reduce the number of residential properties that would be lost to the new road.
Both the proposal and the current alignment will adversely impact a number of homes.
Last Sunday, I wrote a piece about an unusual child custody case that took place in a Collin County courtroom. I wrote the article based solely on the decision handed down by Texas' 5th Court of Appeals.
The court reversed the jury verdict that had terminated the parental rights of a young immigrant mother.
Now, I want to tell you the story of that young mother. Because this case involves a minor child, I will not use real names. I'll call the mother Alandra.
Alandra was born in a very rural, very poor part of central Mexico. She is of Indian blood, a descendant of the ancient Aztecs. She grew up speaking the old Aztec language of Nahuatl and only learned Spanish when she began going to school.
The Nahuatl people are among the poorest in Mexico, most are impoverished subsistence farmers and few can find work above the minimum wage. They are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in a nation where the bottom is very, very low.
When she was young, she was stricken with a bout of appendicitis - the subsequent surgery was poorly done, and since then she has complained of pain and has had irregular periods.
Escaping the crushing poverty of her home, Alandra left her family and moved north to seek work and wages in the United States. She ended up in Collin County, working on an assembly line type job, stuffing meat into boxes. She spoke no English, had no car, no driver's license and lived in a 2 bedroom apartment with at least 6 other adults - many of them complete strangers.
On March 14, 2007, at the age of 20, Alandra found herself suffering from severe abdominal pain - she was bleeding heavily, but she made her way to the Medical Center of McKinney.
She assumed that she was suffering from lingering complications from the earlier appendectomy. Instead, she was stunned to hear Dr. Cesar Reyes tell her that she was pregnant, that the child was in breech and that surgery had to be done immediately. The doctors then performed an emergency Cesarean section on the frightened girl.
Alandra's surgery was successful and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. While still in the recovery room and under the influence of pain killing drugs, she was heard to say that she didn't want to have a baby. Later, she asked for her son and stated that she wanted to keep him. But a member of the hospital's staff was concerned that Alandra did not seem to be bonding with the boy, and called the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (FPS).
FPS never gave Alandra a chance to show her ability to care for her son - the state took the boy into protective custody while mother and baby were still in the hospital. The boy was placed with Anglo foster parents who spoke no Spanish, much less Nahuatl.
Five days after the baby was born, FPS filed suit for custody and was appointed the temporary managing conservator of the baby boy. The court ordered Alandra to submit to a psychological evaluation, counseling drug/alcohol assessment, random drug testing and parenting classes.
Alandra, even though she had done nothing to harm her baby, and had done nothing wrong at all, was now subject to the will of the court and Child Protective Services (CPS). She had to submit or lose her son forever.
She tried to do what they wanted. She went to the counseling, she passed all the drug and alcohol screens, all the drug tests and the psychological evaluation showed no signs of mental illness. She kept her job, and she was never in trouble. She had to rely on friends to get her to the counseling center and to CASA, where once a week she was allowed to visit her son for two hours - under constant supervision.
During these visits Alandra cuddled and kissed her son. She changed his diaper and asked about his teething and eating habits. She asked for pictures of him and asked if she could buy him a toy. CPS still questioned whether she was sufficiently 'bonding' with her baby boy.
Alandra's largest problem, as far as CPS was concerned, was her living arrangements. Soon after the baby was born she moved out of the crowed apartment and tried to improve her situation. She moved 4 times that year. At one point, CPS was considering returning her son, but she lived with a family and one day the man hit her. Alandra quickly moved out. A CPS investigator testified that "Mom had made a good decision in getting out of a possible [sic] very violent situation."
Alandra finally moved in with a boyfriend in what became a stable relationship. She had begun to buy baby stuff. CPS reported that her home life was stable, her home was clean and there was food available.
But then in December of 2007, CPS informed the court of its desire to terminate Alandra's parental rights, and in February of 2008 it asked the court for a 3 month extension of custody.
A jury trial was held In Judge Cynthia Wheless' court at the Collin County courthouse in March of 2008 in front of an all white, all Anglo jury.
In his opening statement the State's attorney noted that he was going to talk about "the differences in parenting styles and about what a child's needs are". He told the jury that he wanted them to "listen to everything she [Alandra] has to say because, honestly, I've never seen a parent work as hard as Alandra has."
The foster parents testified at that trial. The foster family was white, middle class. The father was a church director. They had given the boy a good home, in fact the only home he had known in his entire life. At that trial, the foster parents testified that they wanted to adopt Alandra's baby boy.
CPS experts questioned whether Alandra had 'bonded' with her child and if she had fully fulfilled by the court's and CPS' requirements.
Alandra's attorneys argued that she had never once done anything to harm or endanger her son, that she had done her very best, in difficult circumstances, to follow the court's demands and had in fact been tenacious in her efforts and desire to be reunited with her baby.
The jury was asked to answer questions of fact (using the standard of "clear and convincing evidence"). The jury determined that Alandra had not placed the child in danger or harm. However they also decided that Alandra had not fully complied with all the provisions of the court's orders.
The jury then determined that the termination of Alandra's parental rights was in the best interest of the child.
One year later, the 5th court of Appeals reversed the termination based only on their opinion that the 3 month extension granted by Judge Wheless was wrongly granted.
Alandra still does not have custody of her boy. In order to give the State time to prepare any further appeal, the appeals court order is not effective until July 24th.
Today, Alandra's attorneys were notified that the State of Texas would in fact appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court. The attorneys were also told that the foster parents would be suing Alandra to gain permanent custody of her baby. They still want to adopt him.
It is unknown whether Alandra will get to visit her baby boy before the Supreme Court rules - a process that could take a year or more.
In order to tell this story, I have purposefully avoided legal arguments and citations. The requirements for terminating parental rights can be found in the Texas Family Code, Section 161.001. The jury verdict was based on this section of the law.
The arguments and facts of the case can be found in the records of Collin County's 417th District Court. The case number is 417-51250-07. The 5th court of Appeals case number is 05-08-00875-CV. I wrote this based on my reading of those records and on my conversations with several people who were familiar with the details of the case and who knew Alandra.
I've been told by several family attorneys in Collin County that the situation Alandra is facing is far from unique. In fact one prominent lawyer who practices family law here told me they call these cases, "give that kid a ticket to the middle class."
I'm not smart enough to say what is in the best interests of Alandra's baby boy. Is he better off living with a loving middle class white family who can give him opportunities and an education, or is he better off living with his mother and his people - in the culture they have lived in for centuries?
I know that history is full of examples of a dominant culture removing and adopting children from a weaker or impoverished minority and raising them as their own. Here in the USA we had the "Orphan Train" of the 1800's, and the removal of thousands of American Indian children in the early part of the 20th century. Australia removed their thousands of Aborigine children during the middle part of the 20th century - almost wiping out that ancient culture.
I don't doubt the good intentions of the foster parents or the jury. I'm sure they, like Alandra, tried to do the best they could for the child. I do however wonder if a Collin County jury can truly empathize with a person like Alandra.
Like many of my neighbors, I moved to Collin County because I wanted to raise my children in a safe environment. We tend to fear those who are poor, and those who are "not like us". As an example, we fight against low income housing because we believe it will attract "drug dealers, child molesters and thieves".
I suspect we subconsciously believe that poor people are at fault for being poor. Some local attorneys told me that the jury's decision in Alandra's case would likely not be the same in a city like Dallas or in South Texas, because there the juries are more diverse, some of the jury member are poor or in a cultural minority or are related to folks who are.
But regardless of where the trial was held, Alandra did nothing wrong. She never harmed or abused her baby. She steadfastly fought to gain custody of him. While handicapped by language, culture and poverty, she still tried to obey the court. She loves her son and desperately wants her opportunity to be his mother.
The baby did nothing wrong either, and while our culture puts a high value on the parent child relationship, the law tries to protect the "best interests of the child". His entire life of 2 years has been spent with an English speaking foster family who loves and wants to keep him.
Since Solomon is no longer the man on top, we leave these questions for our courts and juries to decide. We pray for justice and we hope we elect good stewards of that justice.
For the first time since area unemployment rates began increasing, Collin County’s unemployment rate is at about par with the state’s. For the month of January, Collin County’s unemployment was 6.5 percent and Texas’ was 6.8 percent not seasonally adjusted, according to the Texas Work Force Commission.
Collin County’s unemployment rate represents 26,361 unemployed workers for January 2009 up from 17,157 a year ago.
“The national economic crisis is beginning to have a serious, negative impact on our Texas economy,” said TWC Chairman Tom Pauken.
Industry losses hit manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities sectors the hardest, down 38,100 and 26,600 jobs, respectively. Trade, transportation and utilities include wholesale and retail trades, air and rail transportation and transmission of electric power and natural gas, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
“Although the unemployment rate in Texas is lower than in other parts of the country, it has gone up in recent months and we are concerned,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “I encourage job seekers to seek assistance at more than 240 Texas workforce centers providing help with work search, skills training and other services.”
Education and health services grew by 3,200 positions for an industry gain of 50,100 jobs in the past year. Leisure and hospitality continued its growth trend, adding 1,600 jobs in January and 17,400 jobs in the past 12 months.
(subscription may be req'd.)
Local Chambers of Commerce have for the past several years sponsored events and a trip to Austin for community leaders and citizens during Collin County Days. There are usually several opportunities to meet and network with state leaders and the local legislative delegation. And so it is this year.
Governor Rick Perry will give the keynote address at the opening luncheon.
I am giving some serious thought to attending. I even scheduled vacation time for those 2 days. The $125 registration fee didn't seem overly expensive, since there was a lunch reception included. But then I read the planned schedule of events.
The program includes a series of informal panel discussions. Looking at some of the leaders of those panels I realized that I would be paying $125 to listen to lobbyists' propaganda.
For example, the healthcare panel is to be led by Arlene Wohlgemuth, Founder and President, Three Point Strategies. I've called Ms. Wohlgemuth the "Pied Piper of Texas", as she played a legislative tune while leading hundreds of thousands of poor children off a cliff.
Ms. Wohlgemuth was a Republican legislator instrumental in the ruinous privatization of Texas's social service system. Her role and the disastrous effects to the poor of that privatization was graphically documented in a recent Dallas Morning News investigative report titled "State of Neglect". Ms. Wohlgemuth's firm, Three Point Strategies lobbies the legislature primarily on behalf of health care companies.
The Taxes and Spending panel is led by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a lobbyist and conservative activist, and former press secretary for Ron Paul. He is described as a devotee of the "Austrian School of Economics", which believes in a radical laissez faire government policy. He is presently the director of Empower Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Empower Texans PAC.
The other two panels are not led by lobbyists, but by State officials.
The Energy Panel is led by Barry Smitherman, the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission. His PUC is largely responsible for the fact that Texans pay some of the highest electricity prices in the nation.
The other panelist is Dub Taylor, the Director of the Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office. Mr. Taylor had previously served on the Texas Railroad Commission and now is a leader of the state's efforts towards energy efficiency and sustainability.
The Transportation panel will be chaired by Steven Polunsky, the Committee Director, Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. Mr. Polunsky is a former policy maker at TxDot and was Director of Research at the now defunct Texas High-Speed Rail Authority. The Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., an outgrowth of the High Speed Rail Authority gave a presentation to the Commissioners Court last week. The Collin County Commissioners declined to endorse its plans believing them to be too expensive and not cost effective.
There's no balance on the discussion panels. No representatives from Common Cause, from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Public Citizen or from any group except right-wing lobbyists and state agencies. While some of the speakers, especially Mssrs. Polunsky and Taylor can offer some real technical insight into the issues, only one works at the legislature. This is supposed to be a legislative trip.
Where are our state legislative leaders on these 4 subjects? I'd really like to hear from Dallas's Senator Carona the chair of the Transportation Committee on our $1.2 billion of SH121 funds,. Or from our own Senator Shapiro on the effects of property tax cap bills on education.
Businesses and citizens in Collin County have a real stake in many of the deliberations of the 81st Legislature. They deserve the respect of our state leadership. Instead, it appears my $125 would go largely for attendance at a far right pep rally.
That's too bad.
The Dallas Morning News is publishing a series of profiles of homeless residents of the Samaritan Inn. The series is written by Lynn Sipiora, the Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn.
DMN - Lynn Sipiora: Homeless in Collin County
The thing about second chances is that we all deserve them
Published in The Dallas Morning News
Friday, November 21, 2008
Editor’s note: November is National Homeless Awareness Month. This month, Lynne Sipiora, executive director of Collin County’s only homeless shelter, will spotlight Samaritan Inn residents who represent three of the most common types of homeless people in the county: the untreated mentally ill, the working poor and the recovering substance abuser. Names have been changed to honor the relationship between the shelter and its clients. For more information, visit www.thesamaritaninn.org or e-mail Lynne at email@example.com.
Part I is available here.
Part II is available here.
The thing about second chances is that we all deserve them
The homeless people we see at the Samaritan Inn regularly fall into one of three groups the working poor, the untreated mentally ill and the recovering substance abuser, but there is no doubt that the recovering substance abuser is the least likely to elicit sympathy and compassion from the community.
Tim was a junior when he first smoked a joint at a Collin County high school. If you asked him why he tried it, he would tell you he was just curious. Lots of kids smoked pot, and it didn't seem to be a big deal -- they still went to class; they still graduated; they still went to college. Unfortunately Tim didn't end up doing any of those things. He added a couple of Vicodin to the mix, and then he tossed in some Valium, and finally he made his way to Meth.
By age 17, Jack had dropped out of high school and was primarily interested in staying high.
"It was always on my mind," Tim said, "where to get it, when to use it and then how to get it again when the high wore off. It was like a full-time job."
Of course, Tim couldn't hold a full-time job, so he stole the money he needed to buy the drugs from his family and his friends.
"You just don't think about the consequences when you're in that frame of mind. All you know is you need money -- doesn't matter how you get it or from whom. The truth is drugs ruined my life."
A lot of research has been done to determine why some people can dabble in drugs and move on and others like Tim are destroyed. The biological factors include a genetic predisposition and/or a pre-existing medical or mental illness, but the psychological factors are a lengthy laundry list that probably contains at least three or four things that we could all relate to.
Unfortunately, Tim drew the short straw and made bad choices and quickly spiraled out of control. His parents, who lived in a gated community in a beautiful home, tried to intervene, but when their attempts failed time and time again, they told him they could no longer be involved in his life.
It's important to remember that drug abuse is more then just a lousy habit; it changes the chemistry of your brain. It overstimulates the pleasure center by flooding it with neurotransmitter dopamine, which produces euphoria, and once the brain has a taste of that, it wants more and then it takes more to replicate it.
Tim lived on the street for six years -- sometimes taking an odd job here and there, and sometimes panhandling, but always using drugs.
"Look, I know I caused this," Tim explained. "I can't blame it on anyone else. I had a privileged childhood, good parents who loved me, I was a Cub Scout, I played soccer, but stuff just got out of control. Finally I just got sick of feeling so bad all the time."
Tim when to an in-patient treatment center and, at 26, has now been clean for six months. He has a full-time job, and he recently got a GED. He's considering community college next fall, but the fact is he's still scared. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder -- it's not enough to just stop using, you have to make behavioral changes as well and you must always be on high alert.
"They tell me it will get easier," Tim says, "but it's hard, really hard. When things go wrong, drugs still call to me. I mean look at how people struggle to deal with losing weight -- they start and stop and start again -- but I don't have that luxury, I can't just have a taste, because then its all over."
So Tim is living at the Samaritan Inn now, planning to be fully independent within a few months.
Will he relapse? Statistically, it's more than likely. Those who can successfully beat addiction are definitely in the minority. Yet some people do, and as long as they do, and they are the ones who make us believe in mercy and second chances.
The Dallas Morning News is publishing a series of profiles of homeless residents of the Samaritan Inn. The series is written by Lynn Sipiora, the Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn.
DMN - Lynn Sipiora: Homeless in Collin County
Published in The Dallas Morning News
Friday, November 14, 2008
Editor’s note: November is National Homeless Awareness Month. This month, Lynne Sipiora, executive director of Collin County’s only homeless shelter, will spotlight Samaritan Inn residents who represent three of the most common types of homeless people in the county: the untreated mentally ill, the working poor and the recovering substance abuser. Names have been changed to honor the relationship between the shelter and its clients. For more information, visit www.thesamaritaninn.org or e-mail Lynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last week’s column is available at dallasnews.com/opinion blog.
Homelessness is on the rise, and homeless families are the fastest growing number in the homeless population. Single moms, single dads and intact families show up at our door every day after spending weeks on a relative’s couch or living in their cars.
The soaring foreclosure rate affected Carol, 50, and her 12-year-old daughter, Jenny. And Carol wasn’t even a homeowner.
Carol had rented a small home in a tidy neighborhood for 10 years. Her rent was relatively low, and she took meticulous care of the place. She and her daughter mowed the lawn, weeded the flower beds and repainted whenever necessary. They loved their little house and expected to live there forever, but the owner of the home went into foreclosure.
By the time Carol got the news, she had five days to find another place. Problem was, Carol didn’t make much money and, as a result, had minimal savings.
“I tried to keep about $50 saved up for Jenny,” she said, “for school field trips and supplies or little gifts for when she was invited to a birthday party.”
Every place Carol looked required the first month’s rent and one month security deposit, totaling over $1,000.
“Believe me,” Carol explained, “I wasn’t looking for much.”
Carol and Jenny had no relatives or friends who could help, so they moved into a hotel, and her money disappeared even faster. And then the car wouldn’t start. And then she lost her job.
And then Carol was out of options.
Jack and Eileen and their two school-age children did not live in a rent house. They had a one-bedroom apartment. They gave the children the bedroom and slept on a foldout couch in the living room. It was tight, but it was all they could afford. Jack and Eileen both worked hard — Jack at a gas station and Eileen at a fast-food restaurant — but they earned minimum wage. Minimum wage is not a living wage, not even times two.
Still, they scraped by for a long time until their daughter got an ear infection. She needed to see a doctor. They had no insurance, so they paid cash at a walk-in clinic. She needed a prescription medication, so they paid cash at a pharmacy. They took turns staying home with her and lost about a week’s wages.
And then Jack and Eileen were out of options.
Their daughter’s relatively minor illness caused them to spend half of their rent money, and they were evicted.
And get this: At a combined annual income of $27,248, Jack and Eileen were $5,240 dollars above the poverty line, making them ineligible for most subsidized health care clinics.
“Couldn’t the landlord have waited just a bit, so you could catch up?” I asked
“Wait for what?” Jack asked. “We would never catch up.”
If you work, you shouldn’t be poor, but people are. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.7 million workers are paid at the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour, and you simply can’t make it on that. So government steps in and offers social welfare programs, and if and when people take advantage of them, they are accused of being lazy and entitled.
Guess what? Some are.
Guess what? A whole lot aren’t; they are simply trying to survive.
At the Samaritan Inn, we offer food and shelter, but we also offer an opportunity for people to take a breath, to save some money, and to get a GED or enhance their skills so they can find higher-paying jobs.
Don’t like social welfare? Then consider making a donation to our program or any program like it that gets results.
Do it because it makes good fiscal sense. Or, better yet, do it because you believe that a person who goes to work every day shouldn’t have to worry about where they will sleep every night.
link to article
In Saturday's Dallas Morning News, Lynn Sipiora, the Executive Director of Collin county's only homeless shelter, The Samaritan Inn, profiles one client of the Inn.
"Andrew" is well educated and had a good job, but untreated depression and unemployment led to his divorce and subsequent homelessness. According to Ms. Sipiora, there are three leading causes of homelessness in Collin County - mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse.
Collin County has no "in-county" hospital for mid or long term treatment of the mentally ill. Our largest provider of mental health services is the Collin County jail.
Editor’s note: November is National Homeless Awareness Month. This month, Lynne Sipiora, executive director of Collin County’s only homeless shelter, will spotlight Samaritan Inn residents who represent three of the most common types of homeless people in the county: the untreated mentally ill, the working poor and the recovering substance abuser. Names have been changed to honor the relationship between the shelter and its clients. For more information, visit www.thesamaritaninn.org or e-mail Lynne at email@example.com.
Go to any major city in any state of the country, and you will see homeless people walking the streets with shopping carts or asking strangers for change.
It’s part of the urban landscape and the origin of most people’s perception of the homeless — but it’s simply not an accurate one anymore.
Homelessness has moved to the suburbs.
The Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, is at capacity almost every night of the year, and the people filling those beds are not who you might expect.
Meet Andrew, 56, average height and build, well-dressed and articulate. He was the youngest of three boys, born to a suit-and-tie kind of dad and a stay-at-home mom in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. He graduated from UT-Austin and was hired by a prestigious advertising firm right out of college.
Andrew enjoyed an exciting career and won several national and international awards for his work. He was successful and focused, so focused that he didn’t marry until he was 39.
“I met Joan at a party,” Andrew told me, “and the very next day I called her. We had drinks at a restaurant and talked about our mutual interest in design.”
Less than a year later they married and settled into a home in Dallas. They happily welcomed a daughter into their family in 1994 and a son in 1997.
Life was good — the way they expected it to be.
Then an investment in a new business failed, three of their four parents died in a span of six months, and Andrew lost his job. As weeks of unemployment turned into months, they were forced to sell their home. Andrew fell into a debilitating depression.
The last estimate of the homeless in Collin County I heard of put the number of those without a place to live here at 300. Some other estimates, which also count those in jail and in state mental hospitals who have no place to return to at over 1,200. The Samaritan Inn has the ability to shelter 120 but much of the time, turns away 35 or more a day because it is full.
The 2007 "Point in Time Homeless Count" counted 151 homeless individuals in our county. 72% of them were women and children. The leading cause of their homelessness was self-reported as "domestic problems or abuse", followed by "unemployment". Most of the people I know who are involved in helping families have told me that the "Point in time" census misses the majority of those here who are homeless.
Collin County does not have large homeless encampments like we've seen in Dallas. It's hard to find these people, so they don't appear in any census.
Kids who have run away from home or who have been thrown out by their parents live on sofas at neighbor's or friend's homes. (When my sons were in high school, we sheltered one such boy who was kicked out of his house at 16.) One Wylie school board member told me that at any time there are a dozen homeless kids here in Wylie. Getting them to school is a major problem, especially if they have no way to shower or get decent clothing.
CITY House in Plano runs a 15 bed emergency shelter located near downtown Plano. CITY House is the only emergency shelter in Collin County serving homeless, runaway or abandoned youth.
Many adults and families are living out of their cars parked in different places every night to avoid police attention. A very few are on the street.
Last month, the US Census bureau published the 2007 Community Survey. It details the extent of poverty in our county. Last year, while our per capita income was a respectable $37,279, 6.5% of our neighbors lived below the poverty level. Families fared worse. The median family income was a whopping $92,351, but 4,000 families had less than a $15,000 annual income.
Johnny Todd has a lousy job: The Collin County constable evicts people who don't pay their rent.
With the battered economy, Constable Todd is busier than ever. He's not just ousting renters. He's also evicting homeowners who fall hopelessly behind on their mortgage.
He witnesses foreclosure fallout firsthand.
"You'd be surprised at the ones we move out," Constable Todd said. "Some just have a mattress in the bedroom and sheets over the window. They couldn't afford a doggone thing."
All five Collin County constables handle evictions. But Constable Todd, whose Precinct 4 includes west Plano, Frisco and Prosper, does the most by far.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Mr. Todd's office served 2,842 eviction notices – a 28 percent increase from just two years ago.
Many people who receive notices come up with the rent or mortgage in time to avoid eviction. But others take no action, and a justice of the peace orders their possessions hauled out.
Constable Todd and his deputies don't actually remove the furniture, clothing and other belongings. Instead, they stand guard as movers hired by the landlord or mortgage company close a chapter in someone's life.
"A lot of people are distraught about losing everything," he said. "We have to escort some off the property. We try to console them."
Economic conditions for poor families are worse this year than last and are not expected to get better soon. The cost of living is rising and unemployment growing. Evictions and home repossessions are soaring and can be expected to get worse. In Collin County, 21,000 families spend more than 35% of their income for rent or a mortgage. Many of these families are at grave risk of being homeless.
Collin County Area Regional Transit will begin charging riders
Friday, October 3, 2008
By Jim Kilpatrick, McKinney Courier-Gazette
The Collin County Area Regional Transit service will begin charging customers for their rides starting in May -- and some of the seniors who are the most affected are not happy about it.
The new fares will be 50 cents for passengers who are handicapped or over 60 years old, and $1 for everyone else.
“It may not seem to be a lot to most people, but to our population [seniors] it is a lot,” said Marilyn Stidham, executive director of the Collin County Committee on Aging. We will transport about 275,000 people over a million miles this year. We take them to work, medical appointments and shopping. These are all the vital things people do every day.”
But public officials believe they are doing the right thing creating the fare system.
“The way the Federal Transit Administration and the State look at it is that public transportation is not free,” Director of Transportation for CCART Ronald “Rep” Pledger said. “There is a push that there should be a fare for everything that deals with public Transportation.”
Residents are invited to share their views on the new fare system at a public meeting at McKinney City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16.
They are not the only changes being imposed. Also included are termination of weekend routes, having all five routes meet at the CCART offices every hour, having the Route 500 shadow the 100 route and color-coordinating brochures and street signs, Pledger said. These changes take place Nov. 15..
Pledger urged people to show up at the meeting to look at the proposed routes and make suggestions.
“We want input,” Pledger said.
David Henry of McKinney is a regular rider of CCART and considers it the easiest way and the quickest way to work.
“I didn’t know they were going to have to start charging to ride, but I can understand why,” he said. “It’s not going to change me riding the bus.”
Evelyn Box of McKinney? knew about the new fare rate knew it would affect her..
“It will in some ways because I am on a fixed income,” Box said. “In the first of the month it won’t affect me but in the middle and end of the month it will.”
She also will keep riding the bus, she said.
It would be naive to think the fares won’t affect some riders, Pledger said. But ultimately, if people need the bus system, they will use it, he added.
“I’m sure they will, but I think it will actually put more folks on there then are actually using the transportation to get to work,” he said.
CCART’s growth began because of the growth of McKinney, according to officials.
When the population of McKinney grew to over 50,000 people in the 2000 census, the Federal Transit Administration notified the state that McKinney had a transportation issue and provided money to handle the issue.
“CCART had already started running fixed route in the city of McKinney,” Pledger said. “They were doing it without anything to do with the city.”
The latest foreclosure statistics show only a 7 percent increase in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from a year ago.
But more than 3,700 homes are still scheduled for foreclosure sale in September’s county auctions, according to statistics released Thursday by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.
The biggest September foreclosure gain is in Collin County, where the number of homes facing forced sale jumped 38 percent from a year ago.
Foreclosure totals were unchanged in both Dallas and Tarrant counties.
The period ending with September’s foreclosure auctions will be the second quarter in a row that total postings in the area have declined.
So far this year, 37,572 residential properties have been posted for foreclosure – an increase of 20 percent from the first nine months of 2007.
DALLAS-FORT WORTH AREA FORECLOSURE POSTINGS
Residential properties scheduled for foreclosure auction in September for each of the counties and change from a year ago.
|Dallas County||1,692||No change|
|Tarrant County||1,098||No change|
|Dallas-Fort Worth area||3,721||7%|
SOURCE: Foreclosure Listing Service
Frisco Family Services Center supporters and board members heard an update and presentation of future goals for the center at the annual “State of the Agency” address Thursday night at the Senior Center at Frisco Square.
"[some] who were previously donors to the food bank have had to learn how to become clients."
Executive Director Jill Cumnock addressed the crowd of about 50 on changes that have occurred as the economy has declined. She said that some clients who were previously donors to the food bank have had to learn how to become clients. She said many of them are from the housing industry.
“We are definitely seeing a different clientele,” Cumnock said.
She also said that the agency has seen a spike in its gasoline voucher program as oil prices have surged, and FFSC is planning to begin distributing child-care vouchers in a similar program that would allow parents to leave their children in safe hands as they work until a first paycheck hits the bank.
Water treatment plant may bring steep rate increases
Saturday, April 26, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Thanks to a planned treatment plant, the reek that occasionally afflicts drinking water from Lavon Lake will be gone in the next several years.
But the rate increases to follow will be steep, meaning higher bills for those who get their water from the North Texas Municipal Water District. And that is just the beginning.
New budget estimates show cost increases in the plant and other projects have added some $900 million to a budget forecast the district crafted just two years ago – a roughly 30 percent increase.
As a result, the district, the main water and sewer provider for Dallas' northern and eastern suburbs including Plano, Garland and Frisco, faces the prospect of wholesale water rates doubling by 2018.
While the impact on water bills is harder to gauge, some of the district's 2 million customers could see their bills more than double in that time.
Poverty and homelessness ain't pretty - especially when it's in your back yard. However, it's real and it's still not illegal to be poor in Collin County.
Proposed parking ban may drive man out of Plano library lot
Monday, April 14, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
John Williamson, who is homeless and sometimes jobless, has used Plano's Haggard Library as a base of operations for the past few months.
The 55-year-old Dallas native has slept in his aging van, parking it in the empty library lot overnight.
City officials, responding to complaints from library patrons and nearby homeowners, have failed to get him to move. So Plano leaders have turned to a new strategy: crafting a law that is, for all intents and purposes, aimed at Mr. Williamson.
The Plano City Council today plans to vote on a new ordinance that would prohibit people from parking in the lots of the city's five libraries between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The ban is part of the council's consent agenda, which typically contains routine measures and is approved with little, if any, discussion.
Homeless advocates criticized the proposed ordinance, characterizing it as a misguided approach to tackling homelessness.
Note: For the record, Joyce Baumbach, the Plano library director, is not related to me.
She’s working a job as a customer service agent for the U.S. Mint taking orders from collectors for coins and medals. She’d like to say she enjoys her job, but that would be a lie. She’d also like to say it pays the bills. But it doesn’t. At $10 an hour, she’s many, many miles from easy street.
Lessie Pitts, 33, found herself out on the street – literally – last year after she decided to give her freeloading husband the boot. “It was easier supporting four than five,” she said calmly.
But after her husband left, she felt homesick. She said she needed the emotional support of family living in North Carolina. Pitts quit her job and moved.
Not long after moving across the country, she realized the job market in Carolina wasn’t what she had reckoned it would be. So back to Texas she traveled, moving in with friends and planning to stay only long enough to get back on her feet financially.
But things went south.
AUSTIN – Texas has one of the largest income gaps of any state, and, following the U.S. trend, it's getting worse, two liberal think tanks warned Tuesday.
Their study of inflation-adjusted census data shows that in Texas, the gap between the average income of the richest 20 percent of families – $126,658 – and the poorest fifth – $16,088 – is the ninth-biggest among the states.
Texas has the fifth-biggest gap among the states between the wealthiest 20 percent of families and the middle 20 percent, which earn an average of $44,574.
"Since the late 1980s, income gaps widened in 37 states and did not narrow in any," said economist Jared Bernstein of the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, co-author of the report. "The trend towards growing inequality has accelerated during this decade."
In an article published today in the Dallas Morning News, a spokesperson for the State of Texas' Health and Human Services Commission admitted that problems with the State's privatization of the welfare system caused children in Plano to not receive Medicaid benefits.
Rick Perry's efforts to slash the HHS budget and privatize the welfare administration has caused serious errors and backlogs. According to lawmakers quoted in the article, the system is so damaged it may not be salvageable.
The Governor and the legislature share the blame for the starvation of the HHS. Their insistence in trying to outsource the state government has caused a failure in the basic safety net needed by our most vulnerable children.
Texas' welfare privatization efforts snagged
Lost paperwork, other glitches often block help to needy Texans
11:24 PM CDT on Sunday, April 6, 2008
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Lawmakers are worried that a partly privatized system for determining who receives public assistance is still shaky and may not be salvageable.
Paperwork for applicants has been lost. Needy Texans have received little help from state workers when they've complained of mistakes. And all too often, Texans who should qualify for state-paid health care and other benefits have been refused because of such errors.
When one closely watched measure of the state's performance on aid requests plunged recently, lawmakers sharply questioned Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins. He has announced several new initiatives this year to lure and retain state eligibility workers – and to train more of them on a computer system causing most of the delays.
But those steps haven't calmed lawmakers' nerves. They and advocates for the poor are skeptical he can quickly fix a system that's been in crisis for most of the five years since the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry slashed the payroll of the state's welfare offices and ordered a shift of many screening duties to four privately run call centers.
State leaders acknowledge that promised cost savings haven't materialized and mistakes are common. Now, the system could be headed for more severe problems, as a jittery economy means more Texans may soon apply for public assistance.
As policymakers and experts in Austin bicker, needy Texans continue to report problems. When they complain, poorly trained state and contractor employees respond inadequately, they say.
Plano housewife Cecilia Davidson is one such person, baffled – and frustrated – by the sputtering system.
Ms. Davidson, whose husband got laid off from a construction job and struggled to find work, got her two sons on Medicaid. When their six months of coverage ended last April, she applied for renewal, but state workers' errors left the family without coverage until December.
Ms. Davidson abandoned hope of getting help from the state. Despite her own chronic medical condition, she took a job last summer, hoping it would be the ticket to private family coverage. It wasn't.
She said that by September, her 16-year-old son, Leth, who has a mild form of autism known as Asperger's, needed care. So she applied again to get government coverage for him and his brother Scott, 8.
In December, Ms. Davidson rushed Leth to the emergency room because he had seizure-like "twitching and jerking." Hit with a $3,000 tab, she redoubled efforts to get coverage for the boys. On some days, she recounted, she spent up to five hours on the phone.
"You get run around so much," she said. "My application had so much weighing on it."
Ms. Goodman acknowledged that Ms. Davidson provided all information requested of her, and the boys should have had continuous coverage.
Under Medicaid, a child's bills from the last three months can be paid when they enroll – so Leth's ER visit is covered. Ms. Davidson said she winces, though, when state workers tell her that millions more Texans eventually will have their records pulled into TIERS.
"Everybody's going to be on it," she said. "God help everybody."
Collin County opens its first transitional housing
Sunday, March 16, 2008
By JAKE BATSELL / The Dallas Morning News
McKINNEY – Aaron Whitaker and his teenage daughter had only $36 and a few gallons of gas last year when they checked into a bunk-bed room at the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter.
On Friday, Mr. Whitaker carried his daughter on a triumphant piggyback ride into their brand-new apartment, where 16-year-old Guyler Easter hangs out in her own room decorated with Tinker Bell stickers.
The father and daughter are among the first residents at the North Texas Gateway Apartments, a 20-unit building that organizers say is the first transitional housing complex in this affluent county.
Transitional housing serves as a bridge between homelessness and full-fledged independence. Gateway residents first must graduate from the shelter across the street and work full-time to qualify for one of the apartments, built with a $2 million gift from Addison entrepreneur Marc Sparks, a longtime Samaritan Inn donor.
Sometimes, Ed Housewright gets it right. I was at the NTBHA's town hall meeting, so were 3 readers of this blog, so was Ed. That was it, folks.
Indigent mental healthcare in Collin County, and for that matter, in Texas is in great need of state dollars. Texas ranks 48th of the states in per capita public mental health spending, and the North Texas region ranks near the lowest in Texas. Our commitment to those who need care is among the lowest of the low.
"Fortunately, a lot of people with mental problems have families that help them access the system... For those who do not, I don't know how they survive. If they are not on their medication, those are probably the people who end up in jails."
Commissioner Phyllis Cole
Those poor in our county who need mental health services are likely to end up in jail or homeless - or possibly hurt themselves or others.
The effects of our inability to provide decent care are profound for our community, and for those who suffer.
Collin County's mental health care merits public debate
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Ed Housewright/The Dallas Morning News
Ross Galvan made straight A's in high school, quarterbacked the football team and never got in trouble.
Now Mr. Galvan, who is 21, sits in the Collin County Jail. He's become a frequent guest over the past 18 months – thanks to three felony charges and three misdemeanors.
His mother, Jill Galvan of Plano, doesn't make excuses for Ross. He did the crimes, and he deserves the time, she says.
But Ms. Galvan thinks she knows why Ross' life took a dizzying nosedive: mental illness. Two years ago, Ross was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition marked by extreme highs and devastating lows.
He's been in and out of jail since then, and he's never consistently taken medication that could smooth out his moods and his behavior, Ms. Galvan said.
"It's been a nightmare," she said.
Medical treatment has become a front-and-center issue in Collin County. County commissioners get lambasted by some for not spending more to treat the poor.
But at least a debate has begun.
Mental health care – that's a whole other story. I've covered Collin County government for almost five years, and I've heard mental illness mentioned at a public forum maybe two or three times.
Indigent medical care, by contrast, has drawn hundreds to rowdy town hall meetings.
What's the deal?
Experts will tell you severe mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical illness. And yet publicly funded treatment never seems to merit discussion.
Here's an example. I attended a public hearing last week on accessing mental health treatment – the first I can remember.
The meeting took place at 6 p.m. at the courts building on University Drive in McKinney – a convenient time and place.
A grand total of four people attended. Well, I made five.
Talk about apathy.
Two officials with the publicly funded North Texas Behavioral Health Authority were prepared with several handouts. Despite the abysmal turnout, they spoke for more than an hour. They talked about the provider network and the different types of care that are available.
It's too bad more people didn't hear the information.
Collin County Commissioner Phyllis Cole, a longtime advocate for better medical care, thinks mental health care deserves more attention and funding.
"Fortunately, a lot of people with mental problems have families that help them access the system," she said. "For those who do not, I don't know how they survive. If they are not on their medication, those are probably the people who end up in jails."
If they gave a prize for the most misleading headline, The McKinney Courier-Gazette would win it, "hands down" for its Saturday coverage of healthcare in Collin County.
Courier-Gazette reporter, Stefanie White wrote the article headlined, Collin bests state in child healthcare, which covered the annual "State of Texas Children" report issued by the Austin think tank, The Center for Public Policy Priorities
The CPPP's report states that Collin County has the lowest poverty rate and the highest median income in Texas - not that it has the best "in child healthcare" as the Courier-Gazette's headline touts.
According to the CPPP, in Collin County:
* The poverty rate is up, with 36,000 poor in 2004
* The child poverty rate is up, with over 11,000 in 2004
* Unemployment is up
* While teen births are down, births to unmarried teens is on the increase
* Infant mortality is up.
* Low birth weight babies are more common
* Child abuse rates are up, with the number of confirmed cases over 1,000 in 2006
* the number of children living in battered women's shelters is up
The CPPP's report does clearly show that Collin County is Texas' richest, yet it has a long, long way to go to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
The McKinney Courier-Gazette article, "Collin bests state in child healthcare" is here.
The Collin County fact sheet from the CPPP's The State of Texas Children 2007 report is here.
The entire The State of Texas Children 2007 report is here.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities homepage is here.
Samaritan Inn’s apartments few months from completion
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Some residents of McKinney’s homeless shelter, the Samaritan Inn, will soon have a place to call their own. The North Texas Gateway Apartments complex is being constructed across the street from the shelter for residents to move into in February or March 2008.
The inn is also seeking the help and generosity of the community to furnish the apartments. They will each be equipped with a washer, dryer, refrigerator and stove, but the residents will need other items, such as couches, mattresses and frames, chairs, pots and pans, dining room tables, cooking utensils, glasses, cups, silverware, and potholders, and other basic household items, said Lynne Sipiora, the executive director of the Samaritan Inn.
Construction is nearly complete on the North Texas Gateway Apartments on McDonald? Street.
The Associated Press and Johns Hopkins have published a report that labels 12% of American schools as "dropout factories". They describe a dropout factory as a "a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year."
Texas ranked 9th highest in the country, with almost 18% of high schools failing to graduate more than 60%. While many of the 179 failing Texas schools were in the Houston or Dallas ISDs, one is in Collin County.
According to the AP study, McKinney North High School only graduated 51% of its incoming freshmen.
"If you're born in a neighborhood or town where the only high school is one where graduation is not the norm, how is this living in the land of equal opportunity?" asks Bob Balfanz, the researcher at Johns Hopkins University who defines such a school as a "dropout factory."
The AP reports: "There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, no more than a decade ago but no less, either.
While some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out, Balfanz says. The data tracked senior classes for three years in a row to make sure local events like plant closures weren't to blame for the low retention rates."
I can imagine the thought process here -
"Robin Hood! Them's fightin' words here in Texas. Brings to mind evil damn socalists robbin the rich in another income-leveling scheme. Redistribution of the wealth and other communist plots are threatening the livelyhood of all of us rich Collinites.
Kind of like life insurance, another commie plot. All those premiums I've paid...and some other slob gets to collect - jus 'cause he's dead and I'm not.
Just like them city taxes goin' to pay all them cops. I ain't been robbed. Don't need 'em - ain't gettin' my money's worth, that's for durn sure.
And how about them school taxes! My kids are growed up. But them liberal schools keep dippin into my pockets. It's unfair, I tell ya!
Come to think of it, I live in Plano. Why's my county taxes goin to pave roads in Frisco? Let them Frisco folk pay for it. Heck, my taxes should only pave the roads I drive on.
But the worst of them is the damn feds. Taken my hard-earned tax money to have a Navy. Hell boys, this is Texas! We need a calvery, not soldiers on boats. Them New Yorkers want a Navy, let them pay for it. Them yankees can pay to patrol the Canadian border too. I ain't afeared of no Canadians.
I'm tellin you, Robin Hood's is gonna be the death of us all. A real commie plot.
And mark my words, pretty durn soon, we're gonna have to build us a wall on the Rio Grande, and mebbie the Red River too - keep all those forners out.
Now that's sumppin' I'll pay for!"
Dallas Morning News reporter Ed Housewright doesn't get it.
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland certainly doesn't get it.
...and I'm starting to think that County Judge Keith Self doesn't get it.
So let me use simple words to explain it - Ed, Jerry, listen carefully, "There are poor people in Collin County"
In a Sunday article about the "AirCheck Texas" program, Ed Housewright wrote, "Good idea, but Collin County – the state's richest county by household income – doesn't have enough poor people."
The same article quotes Jerry Hoagland as saying, " "It's another Robin Hood-type program that's been implemented by the state of Texas.".
So Ed and Jerry here are some numbers for you (courtesy of the US Census Bureau):
22,000 families in Collin County have a gross income of less than $35,000. That's about 13% of the county's families. These families get by on less than 200% of the federal poverty level.
6% in Collin County live below the federal poverty level. These 28,000 people are the poorest of the poor. Of these, almost 12,000 are children.
We know from the Healthcare Task force study last year, that 20% of County residents don't have health insurance.
And we are now reading, in the Dallas Morning News, of horrendous living conditions, crime and government indifference to the plight of poor folks living at the Sugar Hill project in McKinney?.
So Ed and Jerry, What part of poor don't you understand?
Being the richest county in Texas does not mean that Collin County doesn't have poor and underpriviledged citizens.
Last year's healthcare task force brought this lesson home when it noted that over 6% of our residents live below the poverty level, and that 20% have no health insurance.
Thursday, the Plano Star Courier printed 2 articles by reporter Lynn Proctor Windle. The first, Graduates not guaranteed work told the story of a Plano resident and single mom who, despite a college education, has never earned more than $17,000 a year.
The second article, Just ‘getting a job’ doesn’t always change lives of low income describes the Family Self Sufficiency program at the Plano Housing Authority. The four-year-old program offers hope to its clients that their lives can get better with “lots of hard work".
Last week it was reported that The Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter, has been full (capacity is 120) for over six months.
While most of us here might be fortunate, we must not forget those among us who are not.
link to Graduates not guaranteed work