A Homeless Life With Cats on Allen's Landing (Video)
Photos by Daniel Kramer
As you walk along the banks of Buffalo Bayou near Allen's Landing, the first thing noticeable about Percy Lyons, the subject of this week's feature on Houston's hidden homeless, is not his camp or his cots, but the cats.
In fact, the 16 cats that live up in Percy's camp are the only thing that may clue you into his whereabouts. It seems a plausible idea that someone living high up under the bridge where we spotted those collared, well-fed cats running around, but from the sidewalk below, it is impossible to tell.
It's impossible to tell where anyone's living in the area, really.
Continue, to see a video of Percy's cat camp on Buffalo Bayou.
Allen's Landing, once the central gathering spot for the city's homeless, is now eerily devoid of life. At least from the outside, anyway. It is currently a construction zone, with fences and barriers acting as blockades, which make it difficult to access parts of the bayou where the camps once sat.
The banks of the bayou are now empty too, at least where they're visible. For the most part, it seems that the homeless are no longer in the area.
On Wednesday, Mayor Parker announced that efforts to reduce homelessness have thus far been successful. She stated that over the past two years, the city has slashed the number of homeless people living in downtown in half, down to 529 from the 1,060 people living there in 2012.
It does seem likely, based on what we encountered searching the bayous and the streets, there has been a thinning out of homeless people in downtown Houston. The area, once heavily populated with the displaced, is now a ghost town.
The "why" behind that number's reduction is another matter.
Mayor Parker credits the drastic downturn with the placement in permanent supportive housing, a goal of the 2016 plan, and says she is committed to continuing that downward trend with the creation of more housing in the next few years.
Even with the movement toward permanent housing, it seems likely that the city's push for a downtown revitalization is equally as responsible for that decline. The revitalization has been great for the area, with bars and restaurants, and even bayou regattas now. But the revitalization may be displacing as many people as it's attracting.
Kayak tours through homeless camps would be a tough sell, as would a revitalized nightlife in the midst of folks sleeping on the sidewalks. Allen's Landing may be great in the coming months when it's shiny and new, but the current state of the area has forced an evacuation of the bayou residents, and there's little likelihood that they've all been moved to permanent housing. It seems much more likely that they've moved to areas more accessible to the transient population instead.
Percy's still there, though, along with those cats. It seems much more likely that he'd rather be with his 11-year-old daughter, but he fell behind on her child support after photojournalist jobs dried up -- even for one with a degree from Arizona State -- and his unemployment checks could not help him after the support for his daughter was taken out.
It's not like the streets were a choice, really. It wasn't too long after finding himself unemployed that Percy could no longer afford his rent, and he landed on the banks of the bayou after making his way down to Texas for the promise of some work. He hasn't seen his daughter in the two years since, but he speaks to her on the phone when he can.
As resourceful as Fisherman Percy is, he is somehow still stuck in this cycle, and in this park. His innate ability to understand the need to live in the shadows has gotten him by thus far, though. Hopefully it will continue to get him by until he's ready to pull himself out of this mess.
If you search around in the shadows, or follow the cats, you still may find a few of the bayou residents that are left in the area of Allen's Landing. But like Percy, the ones who are left in the park are out of sight because they do a fantastic job of keeping hidden, not because they've received the help they need.
Read more about Houston's homeless including this week's cover story:
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.