Plano homeowners gripe about homeless shelter plan

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by GARY REAVES

WFAA

Posted on August 3, 2010 at 11:45 PM

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.

E-mail greaves@wfaa.com

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