By Ben Lane, TSB Staff
It was a standing room only crowd in the McKinney city council chambers on Tuesday evening. Every seat was taken and the overflowing crowd was spilling out into the hallway. The crowd easily quadrupled the size of a typical crowd for a city council meeting and nearly all of them were here for one reason.
On the city council’s agenda was a request from The Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, to rezone 15 acres around its current facility to allow the shelter to expand and service more families. More than 40 people had come to have their voices heard in support of the Inn and in favor of the zoning request.
The Inn’s current facilities do not allow it to serve all of the people who come to the door seeking help. Their hope is to expand their facility to be better equipped to serve families as well as individuals. According to their presentation, The Samaritan Inn was forced to turn away 3,754 people in 2012 because of overcrowding, and over half of those were children. Thirty percent of the families turned away were mothers with small children.
When the council meeting’s agenda reached the Inn’s zoning request, per council procedures, Mayor Brian Loughmiller first read statements from the gathered citizens who wished not to speak directly to the council. There were more than 20, all in support of The Samaritan Inn’s zoning request. After that show of support, many Samaritan Inn volunteers, staff, and members of Inn’s board of directors, spoke on behalf of the work that The Samaritan Inn does for the homeless citizens of McKinney and all of Collin County.
After the first speaker, the gathered crowd broke out into applause. Mayor Loughmiller had to request that they hold their applause until all of the registered speakers were done speaking because there were so many who wanted to voice their approval.
Amongst the speakers was Justin Hershberger, 23, a Samaritan Inn resident for eight days. After the meeting he told TownSquareBuzz.com, “I felt I didn’t need a homeless shelter. I lost my landscaping business and lost everything. My mom found this place and encouraged me to contact them.”
Justin says being at The Samaritan Inn, even for a short time, has given him more confidence, which in turn has helped to ease his depression and sadness. “I walk around smiling all the time now, thanking the counselors and the staff.” He said his future plans are now to have a positive impact in the community and on the nation.
The various speakers spoke about the work that The Samaritan Inn does for people who are “situationally homeless,” referring to people who may have lost their job and could not afford to pay their rent any longer.
The Inn is a secure building and does not allow any residents to use drugs or alcohol, does not allow dangerous criminals or convicted felons to stay there, and seeks to support those who are going through a rough patch in their lives and help them get back on their feet. These policies helped to gain the unanimous approval of the Inn’s surrounding businesses as well.
After all of speakers were done with their presentations, the council members each spoke to the great works that The Samaritan Inn does and how eager they were to take the vote to approve the request. Councilman David Brooks said there might not have ever been another vote that he was more looking forward to than this one. Councilman Roger Harris noted the amount of positive support from the gathered citizens, “According to my count, it’s 42-0 in favor,’ he said. He was greeted with thunderous applause.
After Mayor Loughmiller spoke about the great work being done by all of the non-profits in McKinney, he called for a vote. Councilman Harris proposed a vote of approval, Councilman Brooks seconded the motion and the council then cast their votes.
After the video board in chambers showed that it was a unanimous vote of approval, the crowd erupted in more thunderous applause. The Samaritan Inn had their approval to expand, and the gathered volunteers and staff could not have been happier. With their desired approval, the advocates for The Samaritan Inn exited the council chambers while exchanging hugs and high fives.
Chairman of The Samaritan Inn’s Board of Directors Rick Wells was very pleased after the meeting. He said, “It felt really good in to have all of those positive comments in support of what we do (at the Inn). I felt good about it (the amount of support and his hope for the zoning request’s approval) but I took nothing for granted.”
The overwhelming show of support by had made the vote of approval easy for the council members.
And now after one of the most well-attended city council meetings in memory, The Samaritan Inn can expand and begin to welcome so many of the families they’ve had to turn away in the past.
After the meeting, The Samaritan Inn’s Executive Director Lynne Sipiora said, “Right now I am proud to be a citizen of McKinney — the only city in the county that has provided for the homeless for nearly 30 years.”