It started with a meeting at a bus stop. Back in 2010, Collin County local Kate Slaughter was with her children as they waited to head off to school when she struck up a conversation with Shanna Schiavon, a neighbor who was also waiting with her children. They chatted about hanging out with friends, going to different galas in town, and then discussed how much they loved helping others and giving back. 

 “We both just loved to be involved in the community, and we would get our friends together to go to Dallas and do volunteer events,” Slaughter says.

Seven years later, their love of volunteering led to the creation of their non-profit organization EXPOW or eXponential Power of Women. They created the organization to help women in the Collin County community who have fallen on hard times and exhausted all other options for assistance. Slaughter, the chief operating officer of EXPOW, describes them as the ones who “slipped through the cracks” of other nonprofit organizations.

Both Schiavon, the CEO of EXPOW, and Slaughter emphasized that not only is there a special need for helping women who are struggling but specifically for helping single moms who are often the sole providers for their household. Nearly 80% of the people they help are single mothers, some of whom have escaped domestic violence situations.  

“It’s so easy to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says.

Homeless in Collin County

Every year, on one of the coldest nights, volunteers disperse across Collin County to take part in the Collin County Homelessness Census Report. Because it takes place on one night, it’s by no means an account of the entire homeless population. Instead, it’s only a snapshot of it. 

In 2019, volunteers found 558 people who were homeless. They lived in shelters, in cars, and on the streets. They also discovered that most of the homeless either had lost their job or simply couldn’t pay rent or their mortgage.

Charles Swab found in a 2019 study that 59% of adults in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck, while a recent survey by Bankrate.com found that 61% of Americans couldn’t afford a $1,000 unexpected bill. And an average of 28% of adults had experienced or knew someone who had experienced an unexpected bill that averaged about $3,800. 

“Prepare yourself for the inevitable, unplanned expense by setting up a direct deposit from your paycheck into a dedicated emergency savings account,” Greg McBride, a Bankrate.com chief financial analyst, told FoxBusiness in a January 2020 article. “Even $20 per week will add up, getting you to the $1,000 mark by year-end.” 

It’s proving to be an impossible task for many Americans after COVID-19 hit. In February, 40% of jobless workers reported that they’d been out of work for six months or longer. Many are finding themselves on the streets or soon will be, despite President Joe Biden’s recent federal eviction moratorium.  

But EXPOW is working to raise awareness on the homeless situation and shine a light on who is experiencing it. They plan to create a series called “Real Life” and put a face on the homeless and hopefully change people’s perceptions. 

“So many people came to us that never in their life ever had to seek social services,” Schiavon says.  Many of the homeless people they meet, she points out, have earned college degrees, had good jobs, and were always able to support their families until they fell on hard times. “In the state of Texas and Collin County, once you have an eviction on your record, it’s really hard to recover cause no one wants to rent to you until you pay that off.”

EXPOW seeks to help 

When COVID-19 erupted in March 2020, EXPOW partnered with local hotels in order to provide housing for the homeless and continue working with them today. Schiavon says before reaching out to hotels, they checked with the families to see if they’ve reached out to any local shelters, churches, or other charities. 

“The people we tend to get are the people that get turned away, and they get turned away for all sorts of reasons,” Schiavon says. “The priority for us is to be preventative and prevent them from getting in situations where they are homeless.” 

EXPOW has been able to help with more than 50 rental assists since last year, but there are some families who are not able to rent property at the time. When this happened, friends made throughout the years connected EXPOW to local hotels that knew the organization was looking for safe housing for women. Outside of housing, some of the hotels are also able to provide other amenities such as breakfast, WIFI, and access to their business center, Slaughter says.

“We’ve been really lucky that we have some great hotel partnerships and end up getting significant discounts,” she says. “We reach out to the hotels, and they now know who we are and what we’re doing, and generally, they do what they can to help us.”

Over the past year, EXPOW has paid for more than 300 hotel rooms, and 60% of this aid was provided between December and January due to the increase in demand.

“We love that we get to tell them, ‘Yes, we can help’,” Slaughter says. “The most common reaction, as you can imagine, is tears, lots of relieved and happy tears.”

They didn’t mention the names of these hotels in order to protect the relationships as well as the individuals who may reside there. However, they did point out that many of the hotels and community members are just looking for ways to help, so it hasn’t been too much of a hassle to find support. 

The future of homelessness in Collin County

Some Collin County cities are taking initiatives to improve affordable housing. For example, according to Allen’s 2020-2021 Action Plan, city officials plan to increase affordable housing for low-income families by financially assisting housing rehabilitation projects.

Frisco has installed an Emergency Rental assistance program. The initiative will allow people who have been unemployed for 90 or more days and have an income at least 50% lower than the city’s median income. This is funded by the U.S. Treasury Department, who have given over $6 million to the program.

The City of Plano has also established a ”Homelessness Prevention Program,” which will financially assist individual households with temporary mortgage, rental, or hotel costs. The amount a household receives is based on income and household size.

McKinney has implemented Recovery Grants specifically as a result of COVID. The grants will provide housing and utility assistance. The financial assistance, which is also based on household size and income, will be sent to the companies instead of the individuals once they have been approved.

As great as these adjustments can be, they don’t usually happen overnight, so it is important for organizations like EXPOW to keep building and working to help those in need.

“Our organization focus is not ‘Kate and Shanna’ doing all this,” Slaughter says. “It’s the community coming together to help these people.”