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Shining a light on homelessness: Collin College forum focuses on children living in poverty, displacement
Michelle Mecca is not a typical stay-at-home mom. The Plano resident has developed a passion for volunteering and feeding the hungry – particularly children.
On Tuesday, Mecca shared her experience with Collin College students and members of the public at the college’s Center for Scholarly and Civic Engagement’s annual “The Face of Homelessness: Finding Solutions for Collin County” event at the Spring Creek Campus in Plano.
Joined by representatives from cities, school districts and local social service agencies, Mecca provided personal insight into what homelessness and poverty in Collin County truly looks like.
“There are about 100 kids at my kids’ school who will go hungry over the weekend if I don’t deliver food to them,” said Mecca, who volunteers her time for the Collin County Homeless Coalition and other organizations in Plano.
Mecca also participated in a free summer lunch program last year in Plano with her children and, as she began to tear up, explained why she involves her children in her philanthropic efforts and why she has grown so passionate about her work.
“The reason why I wanted them to come with me is because I wanted them to see that they’re no different than these kids,” she said. “They can eat the same free lunch, they can play with them and there’s no difference – food’s food for any kid.”
While the forum and question-and-answer session helped address the many factors surrounding the area’s homelessness problem, such as socioeconomic status, mental illness and other demographics, the real message delivered the growing number of young children experiencing homelessness in the cities they call home.
According to the Collin County 2012 Annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count, there were “531 homeless individuals in Collin County reported, which was a 44 percent increase over last year’s reported number.”
Like prior years, the reported stated, more than half of the children identified in the homeless count were elementary school age or younger.
Of the four largest school districts in Collin County, McKinney ISD leads in the number of students classified as homeless or displaced in 2012 with 809 students, followed by Plano and Frisco schools with 216 and 173 students, respectively. Allen ISD had just 38 students who were classified as homeless or displaced.
Schools would not be able to provide the necessary support for their students without the help of volunteers like Mecca, said P.J. Holland-Rasor, director of counseling and student support for McKinney ISD.
Graduation is the ultimate goal, she said, but noted there are many factors affecting children and preventing them from across that line, including hunger and homelessness.
“We know that if their basic needs are not getting met, then they’re probably not going to be coming to school, or if they are coming to school they probably won’t be concentrating on what they should be concentrating on,” Rasor said. “They’re thinking about where they’re going to get their next meal or where they are going to sleep that night.”
Many local churches have become irrelevant in dealing with poverty and homelessness because of their inability to adapt, said Christopher Green, an active member of the Collin County Homeless Coalition and minister at Highland Oaks Church of Christ’s Plano campus.
Green, who represented the faith community perspective in the panel discussion, offered suggestions as to how local churches can become more actively involved in helping come up with initiatives to resolve poverty and homelessness in Collin County.
“Churches have to adapt to their community and they often live in isolation,” he said. “It’s been my observation that the suburbs become cities but the churches don’t adapt quickly enough if they adapt at all.”
While most churches say they care about the issue, Green said it is going to take more than just waiting for those in need to come to them. The faith community, he added, needs to be seen more as a vehicle and less as a destination.
“The issue is getting too big … You have to actively pursue the issue,” Green said. “You can’t just stand on the sidelines and say you care about homelessness and chronic poverty and not step into it.”