Transitional apartments open new doors for Collin’s homeless

Posted on Jul 19, 2012 in Marc Sparks: In the News | 1 comment

Ed Housewright writes about Collin County issues. His column appears every other Sunday.

Stephen Thorpe will be moving into an apartment soon, and he can’t wait.

“I’m getting more excited by the minute,” he said.

Why all the anticipation?

Mr. Thorpe now lives at the Samaritan Inn, a homeless shelter in McKinney, and he’s ready to get his own place. But he doesn’t have enough money to afford the rent at most places.

Enter the Gateway Apartments.

The 20-unit complex opens next month as a project of the Samaritan Inn. The one- and two-bedroom apartments will be offered to shelter residents at below-market rents and will let them regain some independence.

The idea is to help them transition from homelessness to holding down a full-time job and living on their own.

Mr. Thorpe, a short-order cook and recovering alcoholic, said he’s ready to start supporting himself.

“This is the perfect thing,” he said.

The Gateway Apartments are on State Highway 5 in McKinney, across the street from the Samaritan Inn. The two-story complex could pass for any other new apartment building.

Casey Bond, a case manager at the Samaritan Inn, walks across the street almost every day to check on the construction progress. She took me through two units recently and pointed out the tile floors, spacious closets and large windows.

“It’s nicer than my apartment,” Ms. Bond said excitedly.

The Gateway Apartments were built without a cent of public money.

Elected officials didn’t have to hold rancorous public hearings on whether to spend taxpayer funds on the poor. In Collin County, “welfare” spending always generates an outcry.

A generous investor in Dallas donated $2 million to cover the entire construction cost. Marc Sparks has given money to the Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, for more than a decade.

“Most of the working population on this earth is not but two paychecks away from poverty,” Mr. Sparks said. “Poverty can strike anyone at any time.”

The Gateway Apartments will be the county’s only “transitional living” apartments.

“My goal with the project is to give the residents confidence that they can get back on their own feet again,” Mr. Sparks said. “I have found that with faith and confidence, you can achieve anything you want.”

The apartments are generating considerable buzz at the Samaritan Inn. Residents have seen the complex take shape across the street.

“Everyone is interested in an apartment,” said Lynne Sipiora, the Samaritan Inn’s executive director.

Unfortunately, there’s a supply-and-demand problem. The shelter can house 130 people, but the apartment complex has only 20 units. What to do?

Ms. Sipiora said the apartments will be reserved for people, both single and with families, who have shown a commitment to climbing out of poverty. To move into the apartments, someone must have a full-time job and be saving money toward getting their own place.

Residents will be allowed to stay at the Gateway Apartments for six to 18 months. They will pay rent (30 percent of their income) and all utility bills. They will have freedom to come and go, but they still will be under the supervision of a Samaritan Inn caseworker.

Residents can be kicked out if they abuse drugs or break other rules spelled out in a contract they must sign. The contract mentions the “privilege” of living at the Gateway Apartments.

Indeed.

The Samaritan Inn is extending a once-in-a-lifetime offer to people. If you’ve been homeless, moving into the fully furnished, rent-subsidized apartments is like winning the lottery.

Residents even get to take the furniture, dishes, cookware and other household items with them when they leave. Donors have “adopted” units and will keep them furnished.

The Samaritan Inn has developed an innovative initiative to put a dent in homelessness. Let’s hope it works.

Maybe the Gateway Apartments will give people the gentle push they need to get back into the mainstream.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve just spent over 2 hours reading EVERYTHING on your wbteise!! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE YOUR ENTIRE ORGANIZATION AND WHAT YOU DO!! This is not the last you will hear from me!! God bless you all!! ~Shelley Felix

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