Life on the Sunny Side

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

"It was the Spanish again. I can't speak Spanish," he said ruefully. "See, if you have a top skill, they'll hire you anywhere. But if they're looking for a ditch digger and that's all I'm qualified to be, well, they want a Spanish-speaking ditch digger."

He's looking for FUUSA to teach him how to apply for a job. Asked if he has any support, any family, he laughed. "A lovely family. I'm running from them."

Anthony Love said he never tells anyone that there's going to be a happy ending for everyone, especially those considered the chronic homeless. They route most former prisoners into Project Rio, which is designed to find them jobs, he said.

Brenda was relocated from the Pierce Elevated to the 
Stallion Motel.
Daniel Kramer
Brenda was relocated from the Pierce Elevated to the Stallion Motel.
Brenda wrapped herself in plastic to keep the rain off 
her while she slept.
Daniel Kramer
Brenda wrapped herself in plastic to keep the rain off her while she slept.

But even for Project Rio, someone like Don Robertson is going to be a tough sell. Sporting the kind of muscles acquired at a fancy gym or a prison yard, Robertson said he's spent 20 years in prison for murder. "I killed a friend over a girl."

Prospects are few for the 53-year-old. "I can't get a job at McDonald's," he said. He was staying at the Salvation Army for a while, but it has a limit of seven days, he said. He was at the Star of Hope men's shelter, but he missed curfew while working at the rodeo and was barred from staying there for 30 days. He had a job working for a landscaper but left because he said the guy was cheating him on his pay.

He doesn't like where he is -- "all the food is still downtown" -- and claimed they gave him only two bus tokens to last the week, so he couldn't get back and forth. Love said each person was given 14 tokens.

Robertson said he had no choice. He figures he's way out there because it's the cheapest place the agencies could find. Asked what's going to happen next in his life, he said, "It's all up to the people who brung us here. We need to see what they do next."

The morning after the Stallion Motel's occupants had been moved, there was a call from Love. Guess what, when caseworkers went there last night, everyone refused to go. "The guys were kind of like, no, we don't want to move," Love said.

Other than having no phones, they said they were happy, Love said.

"We told them if they ever decide they want to move, to let us know. The choice is theirs. We don't force the issue."

Hearing the news, Williams was flummoxed, but promised to continue to bring additional food, underwear and socks through the Easter weekend.

Just for grins, the Press decided to make a late-morning revisit to the motel, to ask about the change of heart.

Turned out it wasn't that they liked the Stallion Motel so much. It was that the alternative was worse.

"Because they wanted to take us to a house with three men to a room," Shawn said. "Some house on Wayside, they didn't say exactly where. Three men to a room.

"We just accepted what we already had."

Brenda's room is filled with four or five TVs, which she talks about making money on once she finds someone to fix them, but which everyone else says were just dumped on her. The TVs have no picture, but they're loud, if garbled, when she gets them all going.

"You're in for it now," Shawn muttered as she began flipping them on.

She's lived in Houston for all of her 49 years, Brenda said, and although she talks at different points about family members -- a dead son, a mother who sold dope, a daughter, a nephew who liked her -- she seems permanently disconnected. She wears layers upon layers of clothing and has converted her room into even more of a rat's nest, with Chef Boyardee ravioli cans ranging about her bed.

Somewhere among all those layers she's hidden a cell phone. Whether this is one the women's shelter hands out to call 911 can't be immediately determined. She shows off pretty rings and talks about the people in the neighborhood "running from the laws all night."

Shawn is philosophical. "I'm sleeping in a bed. I'm not using a restroom upside the fence. Metro isn't kicking my feet, telling me to get up."

The homeless aren't the only ones whose lives -- at least temporarily -- have changed.

Food Not Bombs is researching new sites for food delivery, Caldwell said. They want to make sure that wherever they move to is going to last a while. "We don't want to become as transient as the people we're trying to serve."

Hatcher is philosophical as well. At the end of the 30 days, he said, "Some are going to be in treatment, some are going to be in long-term housing, and some will be back on the street."

As for Williams, he remains an unrelenting thorn in the city's side. In his most recent e-mail to Love, he expressed support for the effort. But he just couldn't stop himself from asking that one more question:

"Do you believe that after having visited the motel, that the Stallion Motel currently meets city codes to even be open?"

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