Survival Skills. The Star of Hope women's shelter puts on a new face in the wake of a shooting attack

The man spotted his wife through the large glass doors and windows inside the front of the building. Kept locked, the doors open only at a signal from the front desk. That didn't prove to be much of a deterrent on October 3 around 6 p.m. Corey Harrell Cruise, authorities say, pulled a pistol, shot out the glass and stepped through it. His wife ran. Cruise ran after her, firing, observers say. Fortunately for the other people who were there, most fortunately for his wife, Cruise ran out of bullets. He came up empty just as he cornered her in the cafeteria -- the cafeteria with the skylights and the ceiling fans and the hanging Christian banner.

No one was hit. No one was killed. But any idea that the Star of Hope Women and Family Emergency Shelter could be a completely safe haven from the world's violence had gone the way of the shattered glass.

"The openness and the high visibility of things were so people wouldn't have the feeling of being in an institution," says Marilyn Fountain, Star of Hope spokeswoman. "It's a sad irony that this event is going to create a different visual here."

Fountain's help once steered a woman from possible suicide.
Fountain's help once steered a woman from possible suicide.

She is concerned about the wife who was the intended target. She is also concerned about the "troubled" husband who surrendered at a local psychiatric center.

You see, Corey Harrell Cruise knew how to reach his estranged wife, knew the layout of the land, because he was a Star of Hope client, too. He lived there.

Most people call it the Star of Hope women's shelter. And people who haven't visited it don't realize the facility at 419 Dowling doesn't take in just women, but their children and husbands, too. So, unlike an abused women's shelter that would be on full alert if a man who was not on staff tried to get in, the Star of Hope women's shelter employees wouldn't.

The number of homeless is growing. When Star of Hope started with its men's facility in 1907, Fountain says, "We didn't have women on the street. We didn't have women being abandoned." But by the mid-1980s, women and their children were showing up in increasing numbers asking for help at the men's shelter, she says. Also at that time the Houston media was giving a lot of coverage to the tent cities that sprang up around town. It was sort of a romantic image -- people cooking out around a campfire, braving the elements just like the early pioneers. The early romanticism, the "Us against the System" ethos shortly devolved into something uglier, weighed down by the mountains of garbage that started piling up and the picture of raggedy people facing winter in the Houston elements.

That's when Star of Hope decided to expand its mission. It opened the women's shelter in 1989. And found a somewhat different clientele.

A man or family that falls on hard times usually comes to a shelter with some possessions, Fountain says. But abused women come in with the clothes on their backs, with their children, and little else.

For children and especially teenagers, the stigma attached to shelters can be overwhelming. How'd you like your prom date to pick you up at the homeless shelter? Most kids, Fountain says, never invite friends over.

But there are pluses for children. They are getting fed. They are clothed and warm. Star of Hope works with families to get the kids enrolled in school immediately. It gets them school uniforms and new backpacks, so no one can look at them in school and immediately say hey, there's a homeless kid. They don't have to worry where they're sleeping the next night. And there are sometimes extensions beyond the 30-day limit. In cases of abuse, that danger has been removed. They receive medical care. They get counseling. For those who welcome it, the Christian framework offers comfort and definition to chaotic lives. Lives become less desperate. They can survive. And there are success stories.

Most people think the average homeless person is a man in his twenties or thirties, Fountain says. "The reality is the average homeless person is a child, nine years of age."

A stop at a homeless shelter is a last resort, Fountain says. People move from place to place, in with friends and relatives, anywhere they can find before they come to a shelter.

For some even the security of a clean place to stay and food can't make up for the fact that they must go to their rooms at 10 p.m. Some can't accept the ubiquitous messages of Christianity in places like Star of Hope. Still, Star of Hope doesn't go out recruiting clients. The people come to it.

Qualifying for one of Star of Hope's two emergency shelters isn't tough. "You can come in right off the street and declare your crisis, and we'll see to your needs," Fountain says.

She calls the shooting break-in an isolated incident, but hurries to say that in no way does that mean shelter officials are taking it lightly. "We live in times that catch us by surprise in terms of the way people behave and express their emotions."

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