With unemployment peaking in April to its highest rates since the Great Depression, the end of the national moratorium for housing evictions, homelessness has increased in recent months.
In Texas alone, 2.7 million to 3.8 million people are at risk of eviction this year according to the Aspen Institute.
Homelessness was on the rise in Plano even before the pandemic. The Collin County Homeless Census Report showed a 31 percent increase in Collin County homelessness between 2018 and 2019.
Affordable housing is in short supply in Plano. According to the city of Plano, median contract rent increased by 35% in the city between 2012-2018, but median household income in the city only rose 11% over the same period. Waitlists for housing assistance are long, too.
Streetside Showers, a nonprofit based in McKinney, and the First Presbyterian Church of Plano combined forces to help try to mitigate this community problem and serve a population that is often dehumanized and overlooked.
Streetside Showers has been operating for three years, providing free hot showers, meals – and sometimes even haircuts – to those experiencing homelessness. In the time of COVID-19, Streetside Showers employee Michael Dang said the amount of guests the shower trailer has served in Plano has nearly doubled.
“We broke our record like two weeks ago. 42 showers,” he said. “(Before the pandemic) we were averaging 25 showers (each Wednesday).”
First Presbyterian Church has kept a clothing closet to help provide basic needs to low-income and housing insecure families and individuals for nearly 53 years. However, in the wake of the pandemic, the church had to close the closet to keep the community safe.
After seeing increasingly unmet needs in the community, church volunteers decided to join forces with Streetside Showers on Wednesday afternoons to bring the clothing closet to individuals experiencing homelessness. The two organizations have been working together for over three and a half months now.
Ted McKown, one of the volunteers, said the church gives away between 130-200 pieces of clothing each week.
Dang and the church volunteers explained that part of their work is not just about providing for the hygienic needs of those experiencing homelessness. They also work to prevent situations where their clients cannot keep or get a job because they don’t have the right clothes or access to a shower. Dang said these situations happen frequently.
“If someone works in a restaurant and they need anti-slip boots, we go out of our way and spend our own funding, because the last thing we want is for someone to get a job and backtrack just because they can’t get access to something in particular,” Dang said.
The church volunteers all said varying things about how their favorite aspect of this service is the interpersonal, relational dimension. They get to know their guests and what their needs are.
In the middle of our conversation, one of the guests shouted “y’all have a good day! Stay blessed! Thank you for blessing us!”
Dang smiled and shot back, “ya look good!”