Reality Check: Calling the Side of the Freeway Home

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Way out in the west Houston suburbs, there is a tent sitting on the banks of the freeway.

It is obviously someone's home, and has been for a while. It is surrounded by milk crates and bags of clothing, and I always find myself surprised at how neatly everything is stacked. Care has been taken with the placement of the belongings, and it's evident even as they sit stacked atop the dirt embankment.

I pass that tent every day on my way into our midtown office, and although I've often wondered what the story was behind it, I never bothered to do much more than hypothesize. Daydreaming about what leads people to life on the bridge was comfortable. The reality was not.

It wasn't until I began to work on this week's feature, which takes an inside look at Houston's homeless community, that I ever attempted to find out what leads someone to call the side of the freeway home. I'm almost ashamed to say that now, but it seems important to admit. Perhaps I was afraid to know; afraid of what I would find out. Most of us are, I think.

I've visited that tent many times now in an effort to try and find out their story, but it has been to no avail. Whoever it is that lives there, with their neat stacks of clothing and the makeshift milk crate chairs, is gone most of the day, and I am still too afraid of what the night would bring.

The story of the person in the tent in suburbia is important to the narrative of homelessness, though. They all are.

Homelessness in Houston is a complex issue, and it is filled with unique stories about what has led to life as an unsheltered person. Each anecdote is important, from the man living under the bridge alone, to the young mother who is living on the streets and has lost her children to the state. It is with stories like theirs that we aim to paint a picture of what life is for our city's homeless population.

As expected, the stories of abuse, of neglect, and of the addictions that led up to life on the streets were plentiful during this piece. What I did not expect to hear, however, were the stories of resilience. The stories of finding hope while living life being completely overlooked by the folks like me, who look past them from the comfort of their cars, sighing at gridlocked traffic or spilled coffee.

I'll be telling the stories of the ones that were not touched upon in the larger piece -- like the one of the blue tent that sits in the midst of suburbia, or of the man with the kind eyes who was desperate to overcome a crack addiction -- over the next few days leading up to the feature.

Perhaps we will come across each other again, well after this story is over and done with, and perhaps it will be in better circumstances than the one that led up to this story. For now, though, that blue tent still sits there, undisturbed.

I hope it remains that way until the resident finds their way out.

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