Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Emeritus William Lawson recalls the night over 20 years ago when he and other clergy walked the streets of Houston, talking to people left homeless by the oil bust and personal downturns.
“And we were so moved by what happened that night, that we came back and and we told the press about what we thought the spectre of homelessness did for Houston.”
One of the results of that long walk was Wheeler Avenue’s Homeless No More project, an initiative that not only gets homeless women into safe housing, but provides them with life skills, such as how to find a job and how to be an effective parent.
On a sweltering morning in Houston’s Third Ward, community leaders and church members gather for the reopening of the Madge Bush Transitional Living Center, a small apartment complex that provides secure living space for 16 homeless women and their children along with a two-year program of counseling and support. The facility is funded with a combination of federal funding and private donations. Wheeler Avenue Pastor Marcus Cosby says they hope to keep the facility at full capacity.
“As as we do that we’ll ensure that we continue to turn around and help sisters and their children to move from this facility, to a better way of life, and their bring other sisters and their children into the facility for the same opportunities in life.”
One of those at the center is 28-year-old Asa Marie Thompson, a single mother of two who’s been in the program for about a year. Before getting into her transitional housing unit, Thompson says she was lost.
“I struggled with addiction for ten years, to numerous things, marijuana, pills, you name it, whatever’s out there. I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. And if you don’t know that, anybody can come and tell you anything.”
An upbeat Thompson now looks forward to completing her education, working on her career, and eventually buying a house for her family. The place she now calls home is a tiny but comfortable 800-square foot unit, with a single bedroom, and a combined living room, kitchen, and dining area. Program supervisor Jarmain Selders says it’s a place where women can focus on life skills. They can’t have visitors, and they have to be out of the apartment during the day, working or going to school.
“We have designed these units in such a way that the moms can come in and feel comfortable. The stress level can go down because I now have my children in a safe, clean, decent environment. I can focus on getting an education.”
Wheeler Avenue church leaders acknowledge their facility is only helping a tiny portion of Houston’s homeless, but in coming years they hope to extend their outreach to others still living on the streets, as they remember what was learned on that late night walk over two decades ago.