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Economic crisis, Houston solutions, Homelessness 101

Building America
Building America
photo by Derk Dicke

Houston’s homeless population has increased approximately 15 percent over the past two years. Today more than 14,000 people live on the streets, causing local shelters to operate at max capacity.

Marylyn Fountain, Director of Community Relations at the Star of Hope shelter, said the facility had remained occupied since hurricane Katrina, and explained how the plague of recent storms had contributed to the crisis—hurricane Ike having struck a direct blow against the Houston/Galveston area September 2008.

But according to Ms. Fountain natural disasters are not the main concern these days. She explained how storm victims present an immediate challenge for homeless shelters, but said in general those affected by natural disasters recover quickly. “The increase of our city’s homeless population seems largely the result of economic hardship,” she added.

One may not find much complexity in the scenario of collapse that causes homelessness; a job is lost; debt builds quickly—things were tough enough as they were living month to month. Preparations may have been made. But like something falling, “plan A” turned to “plan B” turned to “plan C” turned to a letter of eviction. It happens. Was the greater blow losing the job, the car, the home? Or was it instead the collapse of pride and dignity—the eviction of self-worth?

Where do you go from here?

Shelters such as Star of Hope and the Woman’s Center provide more than a mere “cover” in times of crisis; they shoulder a network of resources, including employment agencies, general counseling, and provide access to substance abuse programs and treatment centers.  Under normal circumstances homeless shelters have a 30 day term-limit for displaced residents, but Ms. Fountain said 10 day extensions are sometimes granted—especially for families and single parents. “Those who work to rebuild their lives do not often succeed in just 30 days, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find low-cost living solutions.”

In all, it seems many methods of past no longer work in present day times. And those like Ms. Fountain—who stand solid with compassion on the frontline—soon may face even greater pressures, fewer options, and tougher choices. City shelters are in need of public help; more volunteers, greater donations, and a higher social priority. Time and again we stand reminded of how little it would take if we all lent a hand. So whatever we may have to offer individually—time to volunteer, financial contributions, canned foods or clothes—we should commit without delay, realizing we strengthen both our individual and collective morale by acting beyond ourselves.

Those who decide to volunteer may think to avoid holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is seldom a shortage of ‘once-a-year volunteers’ seeking to credit themselves on such days; like those who attend church bi-annually—flooding out those who devote greater consistency and who wind up in the nose bleed section. It would be best to coordinate your efforts with organization representatives. Avoid showing up unannounced—as many still tend to do—especially on the sunny holidays.

Also, donate goods to the proper organizations. Call first. Ask what is needed and where it is needed. Some facilities may prefer clothes and blankets, while others may be low on canned food. If you plan to move and have furniture you could spare, you may considerer donating it to the Salvation Army as opposed to the nearest dumpster. A little extra effort reaches far these days.  



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