New Way To Help The Homeless In Houston

The "After Dark" shelter program at St. John's Bread of Life is up and running, giving Houston a small push toward the method of dealing with homelessness that has been embraced for years in much of the country.

The conversion of the former day center -- located on corner of Gray and Jackson under the Pierce Elevated bridge, where many of the city's chronic homeless congregate to take advantage of its popular services -- has been in the works for some time. It provides a service that the city is notably lacking: a place to sleep overnight that has little in the way of requirements for entry.

"You just have to give your name," says Jackson Matthew, a board member at Bread of Life. "We're not requiring you to have identification. We're not requiting you to necessarily be drug-free."

Many of the city's chronically homeless aren't able to enter other overnight programs due to missing IDs and substance problems. But as the Press detailed in a cover story on Houston's growing homeless problem in March, giving someone a place to stay first can help them address other issues down the line. Cities such as New York, Seattle and New Orleans have had success with the concept. Houston has no long-term Housing First options.

"This is a first step," Matthew says.

Where other overnight shelters require residents to be in by 3 p.m., After Dark starts registration for its 55 beds (which fill fast) at 6:30 p.m., allowing clients time to return from work. After Dark provides dinner, breakfast and case management for anyone who wants it -- usually about 100 people. There is also security and medical help on hand.

Still on the way are about 30 permanent supportive housing units, which are being built just behind the facility and should open in October.

The After Dark program has been in effect since June 1, but Bread of Life is introducing it to the city with a press conference at the facility on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. -- in part to solicit funding for additional beds.

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