Houston Homeless Shelter Hanging On

July 12, 2011

Houston Homeless Shelter Clings To Frayed Lifeline

Without financial help, residents will be homeless once again

ROBERT STANTON, Houston Chronicle

houston homeless shelter

Residents Eric Jansen, left, and Craig Harris play dominoes at Second Chance. Jansen, who moved there from prison, says closure would put nearly everyone back on the streets.

For more than a decade, Sanders Stephenson was homeless on the streets of Houston, his pain and frustration dulled by the crack pipes he smoked daily.

Today, the 60-year-old unemployed welder said he’s been clean and sober for five years, a feat he attributes to living at Second Chance Refuge Ministry — a homeless shelter in southwest Houston.

“I came here for a holiday dinner in 1999,” Stephenson said. “I was going to go back (to the streets) and smoke my crack, but I stayed. I never had any clean time until I came here. This shelter is my home, it’s my church and it’s my family.”

The lifeline that Stephenson clings to is at the breaking point, however, as the shelter and its sponsor, New Deliverance Church, struggle to find operational funds. The shelter at 14538 Minetta is home to 31 homeless men – 17 of them parolees – along with a mother and two children.

The Rev. Janice Caslin attributes the church’s financial woes to explosions in 2003 and 2004 at Marcus Oil and Chemical Co. across the street at 14549 Minetta. The blasts caused the ceilings and walls of the church and shelter to collapse, also damaging the foundation.

But most damaging of all, Caslin said, was the dramatic drop in the church’s membership, from 350 worshippers in 2004 to about 100 today. Because the shelter relies solely on church donations to operate, the decline has the facility struggling to keep its doors open.

“We may have to close any day now,” Caslin said. “We don’t have the people we used to have. We lost so many members after the explosions.”

In recent weeks, Houstonians Landon Kelsey and Gordon Hazlett donated food to the shelter, but it was only a temporary fix.

“When you’re feeding people every day,” Caslin said, “it (food) goes as fast as you bring it in.”

Plant nearby sued

The church’s efforts to find legal remedy so far has not been successful. The church sued Marcus Oil and Chemical for $1.2 million after the explosions, said Houston attorney James McGuire, the church’s legal counsel.

During mediation talks, the company offered a settlement of $375,000, which the church rejected.

The reason, Caslin said, was that the damage exceeds $1.2 million, and most of the settlement funds would have to be paid to previous attorneys in the case.

“After the lawyers would get their fees, we would only have about $20,000 left, which would not be enough for the repairs,” Caslin said. “We need a new building to attract new members as well as get some of the old ones back.”

The case is now before the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston.

If the shelter closes, its homeless residents will have nowhere to go for a stable living environment, said Enno West, program director at Second Chance Refuge Ministry.

“Most of them (residents) are paroled out of TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice),” West said.

“Some come off the streets because they have nowhere else to go. They’ve been through so many different programs that they got kicked out of,” West said.

The shelter provides drug counseling, job search assistance and peer-to-peer, social skills mentoring.

‘We’re a last resort’

“If we close down, they will go directly back on the streets,” West said. “We’re a last resort for many of them. No other programs will accept them for various reasons.”

Raven Gillard, who lives at the shelter with her two children, Xavier Jackson, 12, and Mariah Jackson, 10, called the facility her “safety blanket.” She was laid off from a clerical job last year and has been unable to find another job.

“It (shelter) helped me out during my time of need,” said Gillard, 30, who moved into a separate building at the shelter in early May. “If we couldn’t live here, we’d be homeless … on the streets.”

A spokesman at Marcus Oil and Chemical Co. declined to comment.

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