Houston's Hidden Homeless Live Under Bridges, in the Shadows, Out of Sight and Mind

Thousands are caught in the repetitive cycle of homelessness, and there aren't enough safe places to sleep for all of them.

She's been on the street about two years, spending her time in and out of shelters. With no ID, though, securing a bed can be next to impossible. Most nights she's safe enough, using whatever money she can come up with to rent a hotel room, but some nights she has no choice but to roam the streets. Those are the nights she doesn't sleep. It's too dangerous to shut your eyes when you're on the streets at night. Staying up ensures you're alert enough to run.

It seems Sapp's done a lot of running in her 27 years. She wound up out here with three kids in tow after fleeing a violent relationship. There are four kids now, and she's lost custody of all of them. She carries the court papers with her as proof of her struggle and as a reminder of what she is fighting for. She'll always fight, she says. It's just with no roof over their heads, it was too hard to win.

For Sapp, the fight extends well past the court system. She has to fight for healthcare as well. The symptoms from a number of untreated mental health issues — schizophrenia, mania and bipolar disorder — have left her unable to work. She has been off her medicine for months now, but without proper ID, it is nearly impossible to receive treatment.

Percy Lyons finds a hot meal at Martha's Kitchen when the fish in the bayou are scarce.
Daniel Kramer
Percy Lyons finds a hot meal at Martha's Kitchen when the fish in the bayou are scarce.
The cats of the bayou bridge are well-fed with help from bridge resident Percy Lyons.
Daniel Kramer
The cats of the bayou bridge are well-fed with help from bridge resident Percy Lyons.

It's a vicious cycle, but Sapp still looks forward to the day she's off the streets. She's been eyeing a place out in Magnolia, a camper. It's not much, but she hopes to call it home.

For others, the city of Houston was a choice. The streets were another matter.

Darcell Lewis has been homeless for about six months now, the entire time she's been in Houston. She headed here from the blight of Detroit, a city with sky-high unemployment and an even higher crime rate. She wanted to start over, she says, but the promise of full-time work never came through.

Lewis picks up jobs where she can, a week here, a week there. A job as a holiday bell-ringer and a stint with Emerald Linen helped her out, but the temporary work wasn't enough to pay for her own place.

For now, temporary work is all that's available, though. Lewis's three-week stint with Rodeo Houston was the longest she's been employed in Texas. She loved the work, but it was temporary. The horses packed up, and so did she.

It's been fine, though, she says. The folks at the shelter have been treating her well, and she's staying focused in her bid to start over. But there are times when the beds are full at the shelter, which leaves Lewis no option but the street.

"I get leery of people walking past me," she says. "The first night I was out there it was cold and wet, and I stayed up all night. It's hard to stay up all day working when you've been up all night. I just try to keep my head up."

For some, the easiest way to avoid the danger is to simply stay as hidden as possible.

Timothy Mellons lives tucked away under one of the many bayou bridges and has been living here for the past nine years. He's quite difficult to spot, tucked away up there, and that's completely intentional on his part. He prefers to be alone, surrounded by jutted cement and broken bottles rather than people. This bridge is his home.

"I run by myself. Everything I do, I do for myself," says Mellons. "I've been up here nine years now," he laughs, his mouth agape at the sheer sound of it.

Unlike Lyons's camp, Mellons's shelter is bare except for a tattered copy of Gideon's Bible, which sits next to an open 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor. The pages are dog-eared, marking his favorite passages.

Life on the streets has, at times, been a respite. A childhood rife with abuse led him to search for ways to laugh, rather than cry. For Mellons, that meant turning to drugs to cope.

"If you got any kids, do not abuse your kids, man," he says. "I'd be a better person than I am right now if I hadn't come up abused."

He spends most of his days tucked away under the bridge, drinking and getting high. He panhandles when necessary, but he seems ambivalent about the money he earns doing so. "Sometimes I don't wanna have money, man. It burns a hole in my pocket, and I get high until it's gone," he says, his voice heavy with regret.

While he's open about his drug of choice — cocaine — he says little of the alcohol bottles that litter his home. He insists that the liquor not be photographed.

He had a girl, a "real good girl," Genie, but she's locked up, and he knows there's little chance for reconciliation on the streets.

There is one woman who still waits for Mellons, though: his mom. He's still welcome in her home in Galena Park, but she's older now and ailing. He wonders how much longer she'll be there, waiting for her son with a shower and a hot meal.

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My Voice Nation Help

The more services for homeless people you provide, the more homeless people will arrive to take advantage of those services.  Much better to DEMAND that homeless people WORK cleaning up the filth left by other members of the "community" in exchange for bare necessities and only if they pass daily drug tests.  Enabling the homeless lifestyle perpetuates the homeless lifestyle.  And no, you proggies, I'm not of the 1%!

Bobby Mcandrews
Bobby Mcandrews

Quality piece guys! I'm really happy this wasn't "Top 8 signs people fly on Houston streets" or something...

Wayward Shepherd
Wayward Shepherd

Food and clothing are the best things you can give a homeless person.


Years ago I worked part time with a charity that had a homeless shelter as part of the program.  I found a number of the people that passed through the facility had family or SS checks and wanted the shelter to free up money for drugs and booze.  Then there were those who were mental cases.  Solving such problems isn't part of our political process these days.


The moral of the story: Drugs are bad..

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