Bayou City

The New Homeless Converge at Shelters Across Houston

Taleah Williams stood with her family outside a Harvey relief center in Greenspoint.
Taleah Williams stood with her family outside a Harvey relief center in Greenspoint. Photo by Joseph Fanelli

Eron Hypolite first escaped flooding in her apartment in east Houston on Saturday morning. From there, she drove to her boyfriend’s house in Pine Trails, a nearby subdivision, until the water followed her again and she and others were taken by boat to a Harris County courthouse in Timberwood on Wallisville Road. There, she waited in the rain with hundreds of stranded Houstonians to find shelter.

“I was so scared,” said Hypolite, looking tired. “I was calling people from other states to rescue us.”

By early Tuesday morning, she joined the nearly 1,200 people at the M.O. Campbell Educational Center in Greenspoint, one of the Red Cross relief centers established by the city that are housing the city’s growing population of recently homeless.

“Our mission is to provide shelter, food and water, and safety, and we are not refusing people,” said Jerry Fennell, one of the Red Cross responders at M.O. Campbell.

The most recent estimate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is that 30,000 people across Texas and Louisiana will need shelter as flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey continues throughout the Gulf Coast, with 17,000 in need of immediate help in the Houston area, according to the Red Cross. Houston has designated six relief centers across the city and the surrounding area, with Lakewood Church, pastor Joel Olsteen’s megacomplex just west of downtown, joining the effort Tuesday morning after criticism that Lakewood hadn’t done something sooner.

The George R. Brown Convention Center downtown has already almost doubled its capacity, with more than 9,000 people holed up in a complex built for 5,000. At M.O. Campbell, Fennell said, capacity was not an issue as of Tuesday afternoon, but that he and his staff of five responders were handling a center that normally would require 100 workers.
click to enlarge Damon Lewis came to the relief center after his home in East Houston flooded. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH FANELLI
Damon Lewis came to the relief center after his home in East Houston flooded.
Photo by Joseph Fanelli
“The level of anxiety is all right, right now,” said Fennell, who arrived from El Grove, Wisconsin, on Friday and wore a red cap over a gray head of hair. “We’re all right.”

The moods at the M.O. center ranged from frustration to relief to simple boredom. Families sat with dogs or ate snacks near the entrance as rain poured down outside of the concrete overhang. Hypolite had just finished talking on the phone with her mom in Louisiana before she described the floodwaters in the Pine Trees neighborhood.

“It rose to about here,” she said, pointing to the midsection of Damon Lewis, a friend from Pine Trees with dreadlocks and a round face.

“The water in the neighborhood is still rising,” Lewis said. “The water is still rising.”

Inside the center, the floor of the 6,400-seat basketball arena was converted into an impromptu living room, with cots spread across the hardwood floor, topped by white Red Cross blankets. Young children walked and ran through the room.

Sky Cobb sat on a cot cradling his five-month-old and watched his two other boys. Cobb, his wife and the kids were evacuated from their neighborhood just west of the Sheldon Lake Reservoir in east Houston about 3 p.m. on Monday. Like Hypolite, they were shipped from place to place, first stopping beneath an underpass at Tidwell and Beltway A. From there, they loaded into the back of a dump truck and were shipped to a nearby Walmart.

“We were just sitting back there all wet and on top of each other,” he said.

At that point, the family boarded a school bus that drove them to George R. Brown Convention Center, but the bus continued on because of the large number of people already relocated at the center. It then stopped briefly at another relief point that Cobb couldn’t remember.

After about seven hours on the bus, Cobb and his family arrived at M.O. Campbell about 3:45 Tuesday morning.

“They’ve actually done great, surprisingly,” Cobb said about his kids. “Being rained on, walking through water…I think they understood the severity of the situation.”

When the family left their neighborhood, floodwaters had just crept to the door of their home. They spent their morning at M.O. Campbell spreading out their wet clothes to dry. The three boys were antsy but content, though Cobb is eager to get back home and see the damage at his house.

Besides the six designated Red Cross shelters, relief points have popped up across the city and surrounding area. Houston Public Media posted a list of available shelters, and the Houston Press compiled a list of ways to help Harvey victims on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he made an official request to FEMA for supplies of food and cots for an additional 10,000 people.

Fennell, the Red Cross responder, said anyone interested in donating can visit
“We’re asking them to give up a meal and donate it,” Fennell said.

Hypolite doesn’t know when she’ll be able to return to her home or what condition the apartment will be in when she gets there. She said when she left her boyfriend’s apartment, floodwater had eclipsed the top of her sedan.

“The worst in the area,” Hypolite said about the recent flooding she’s seen after living in Houston for 13 years. “I don’t know where I’m going to go…I don’t even know what to do.”
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Joseph Fanelli is a reporting fellow at the Houston Press with an interest in education, crime and eccentric people everywhere.