Life on the Sunny Side

A lucky few homeless people experience life ten miles out from the Pierce Elevated

Residents were removed from their access to medical treatment and a way to clean their clothes.

Or as one of the residents, James, told the Press: "My commode wouldn't even flush." He got that fixed, and ended up taking 90-minute showers, washing himself and his clothes at the same time. Hanging out his wash on the back fence line put spots on the clothes from the rusty nails in the wood.

Dressed in a bathrobe on a recent morning while his clothes dried, he walked the motel's courtyard, pulling a card to show that he did have prospects of getting hired on at a construction site. "I got to stay on top of it, but I don't have a phone here."

James washes his clothes in the shower and hangs 
them on the fence to dry.
Daniel Kramer
James washes his clothes in the shower and hangs them on the fence to dry.

He'd missed any food the night before, came back too late, and even though he tried to wave the van down, it wouldn't stop.

Williams's e-mail was not well received by Earl Hatcher, executive director of the Houston SRO (single room occupancy) Housing Corporation. He said it was not factual.

Hatcher, who was the first executive director of SEARCH in 1988 before moving on to the Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, thought Williams was a well-meaning Johnny-come-lately who might be better off applying his efforts elsewhere. The average homeless person is a 45-year-old male, not the homeless youth that Williams sees in the Montrose, he said.

No one was forced to move in the March 14 relocation, Hatcher insisted, and whatever new conditions they found themselves in had to be better than living out in the open. He knows this was just a temporary solution, he said, but this buys them some time. About 55 people out of the group already went into residential treatment programs, he said.

"This was not a smoke-and-mirror plan," Hatcher said. "It is true Metro had leased that property from the city and was anxious to fence it in. The Houston Police Department did not go in there and run anyone off. This was a humanitarian thing.

"This was well planned and carried out by people with experience."

Still, the Stallion residents were complaining they were isolated from downtown soup kitchens and food drop-offs. Told they would be receiving two meals a day, they instead got a once-a-day delivery at 6 p.m. -- and better be there or there would be no food.

Accompanying their dinner meal was a separate bag containing a muffin or roll. Officials called this a continental breakfast. For most of the homeless it was dessert.

Anthony Love, head of the Coalition for the Homeless for Houston/Harris County and organizer of the relocation effort, said he had to scare up a caterer at the last minute when the groups who had been feeding the homeless under the bridge decided not to follow them to the hotels. The caterer, he said, was providing the meals at cost, so he was trying to help her out by cutting down the number of runs.

Nicole Caldwell, a member of Food Not Bombs, agreed her group met one time with a representative of SEARCH, who asked them to continue the same food-sharing efforts they've been doing for the past five years under the Pierce Elevated.

Group members said they didn't see how that would work, she said. "A lot of our members show up on bikes with food in our backpacks." It didn't seem feasible to carry this ten or more miles out to the motels in South Houston, Pasadena and Channelview. Also, the city and other nonprofit groups are funded. Food Not Bombs exists solely on the efforts of its members, many of them students or part-time workers.

"This is a new thing for us," Love said. "There's been a lot of growing pains and lessons learned."

Williams's e-mail finally made it to Love himself.

And by mid-week last week, Anthony Love said he too found the motel unsuitable.

"They're being moved even as we speak," he said, adding he had no idea conditions were so bad "until I got that note from Reverend Williams" and checked it out for himself. Apparently no one from the city had taken a close look at the facility earlier.

The group would be moved to a five-bedroom house with assisted living. "Three meals a day, hot water and access to a phone. They will be closer to town."

The caseworkers from FUUSA would continue to work with them, to try to get these people into jobs or programs before the funding ran out.

Shawn Wilson, 38, is a poster child for the enormity of that task.

He's been in prison three times for felony drug convictions. "Crack cocaine each time," he said, biting off each word sharply. He's held only one job that he got for himself, a stint at a car wash in McAllen in the Valley. He lasted 30 days. "Well, it was hot and they wanted you working all the time. And I didn't speak Spanish."

Using terms reflecting the years of group counseling he's had while in prison -- "My problems are drugs, alcohol and a lack of self-esteem" -- Shawn said he got out of a halfway house in San Antonio, but headed back to Houston.

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