Gateway Apartments offers homes, independence for former homeless

Posted on Jul 19, 2012 in Marc Sparks: In the News | 0 comments

By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette

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.

Aaron Whitaker carries daughter Guyler Easter, 16, into their new home at North Texas Gateway Apartments in McKinney.

Marc Sparks cutting ribbon at Gateway Grand Opening

Three families that were formerly living in Collin County’s only homeless shelter, the Samaritan Inn, have moved into a home of their own in the new Gateway Apartments that are being managed by the Samaritan Inn.

Located immediately across the street from the Samaritan Inn on State Highway 5, the two-story Gateway Apartments will provide a home for 20 families who have graduated from the Samaritan Inn. The residents pay a discounted rent and are able to live in the apartments up to 18 months.

Marc A. Sparks and his wife, Jane, worked with Lynne Sipiora, executive director of the Samaritan Inn, to make the Gateway Apartments become a reality.

“There is a real scarcity of affordable housing in Collin County. I called Marc Sparks and asked if he knew anyone who would help build an apartment complex and he said he would do it,” Sipiora said during the ribbon cutting ceremony held Wednesday afternoon at the apartments, which was attended by about 60 volunteers, Samaritan Inn board members, and the many people who adopted the apartments and furnished them for the residents.

Sipiora was delighted about the number of people who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony and people who sponsored the apartments and furnished them from top to bottom for the residents.

“I am delighted about the turnout. It proves my whole theory, which is collaboration and momentum solves social problems,” Sipiora said.

Residents of the Samaritan Inn who demonstrate an ability to make a positive change in their previous behaviors or lifestyles are chosen to live in the apartments. They also serve as a motivating example to other inn residents and show that the inn’s programs are far beyond a cot and a hot meal, but rather a way of living to achieve long-term financial stability and ultimately, independence, Sipiora said.

Gateway residents must be employed full-time and pay a percentage of their wages in subsidized rent and all utilities. Though not yet able to pay full rent, the move to the apartments will allow the residents to have a degree of independence with the ability to save money when they will move out on their own.

The first three Gateway families moved into their apartments at the end of March. Future Gateway residents will move in several at a time during the remainder of 2008, ensuring smooth transitions for all, Sipiora said.

The residents are encouraged to take all furnishings and supplies with them when they move out of the apartments, which will further enable them to afford the move to a market rate apartment or home, Sipiora said.

Aaron Whitaker was the first person to move into the Gateway Apartments, which is the only one of its kind in the United States. He thanked everyone that attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday, and the people who sponsored the apartments and “anyone that even looked inside the apartments.”

Local home builder Darling Homes built the apartments at no profit. Darling Homes, which is owned by brothers Steve, Bob and Bill Darling, also built the first home for the North Collin County Habitat for Humanity subdivision east of SH 5 and is also building the 50th home for Habitat for Humanity.

Members of various churches, civic groups, businesses and citizen groups in McKinney and members of the Chambersville United Methodist Church, which is northwest of McKinney, sponsored the 20 apartments. Some units have been adopted on an ongoing basis and other units once, so there will be a continuing need and opportunity to adopt units. Beverly Covington, the city of McKinney’s deputy city secretary, was among members of the Chambersville United Methodist Church who sponsored and furnished an apartment for a Samaritan Inn resident.

“We just thought it was a very worthwhile community effort. It was something that the entire congregation, even though we’re small, was willing to assist in getting people back on their feet. The church is very supportive of giving a helping hand to somebody who needs it,” Covington said.

Sleep Experts donated mattresses for 19 of the apartments.

Samaritan Inn board member Phil Maternowski attended the ribbon cutting ceremony and said he was very glad to see the apartments built to accommodate the residents.

“We’re called to serve those in need and this gives the people a second chance. It greatly enhances the likelihood of them succeeding in that,” Maternowski said.

Sparks presented Sipiora with the 2007 Grand Samaritan award during the ceremony, which brought tears to Sipiora’s eyes because she was very grateful to receive the award.

Staff members of the North Collin County Habitat for Humanity, former McKinney city manager Larry Robinson, Collin County District Attorney John Roach, McKinney City Council members Gilda Garza and Bill Cox, council member elect for district 2 Geralyn Kever, at-large council candidate Sherry Tucker David, and Victor Manuel, the Democratic candidate for the Collin County Commissioner for Pct. 3, were some of the event’s attendees. Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is a member of the Samaritan Inn’s board of directors, also attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.

The moving of the three families from the inn into the apartments has also allowed the Samaritan Inn to allow more homeless people to live in the inn, Sipiora said. In February, 95 people who met the qualifications to stay at the inn had to be turned away because of lack of room. The inn can house 120 people, Sipiora said. The Samaritan Inn is not an emergency homeless shelter, but allows people who are homeless who have a picture ID, who can pass a background check to ensure the person has not been charged with or has a history of a violent or sexually based crime and who have been clean and sober for at least 30 days to stay at the inn.

For more information on the Gateway Apartments or to adopt a unit, contact Sipiora or Casey Bond, the Gateway program manager at 972-542-5301 or visit the inn’s Web site

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