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

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"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.

He could head to The Beacon, right down from where his home is under the bridge, but he chooses to stay away from the chaos. It's too busy and too easy to get yourself into trouble, at least in Mellons's eyes.

Plenty of folks do head there, though, to shower, wash clothes, eat a hot meal, or receive referrals and case management for services. The need for those services is apparent just by looking at the shelter's numbers. The Beacon serves around 600 clients daily, and the numbers continue to grow with each count.

"I lost my good buddy out here not too long after I got out here," recalls Percy Lyons.

"They called him Detroit. That's where he was from. We found him over there in the bayou, face down. Somebody killed him," he continues.

"Being out here can be dangerous," says Lyons. "I've seen people get killed, and there are spiders — brown recluses — and they've sent men under here to the hospital before. Nothing compares to that first night, though.

"That first night was spooky," he continues. "I woke up every few minutes; you hear the train, the cars. It's all right in your ear." He grins and pulls a hunter-green aerosol can out of his bag. "Luckily I got this stuff. If you have to stay out here, this stuff will save your life, man."

"Just make sure it's the one with Deet," he says. "OFF, Deep Woods, with Deet. Otherwise you'll get eaten alive."

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Angelica Leicht
Contact: Angelica Leicht