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Mar 2, 2020

A House With Walls Is A Blessing

n 2015  Mr. Callier fell into addiction which altered his life more than he ever thought possible; after losing his job, wife, and home, Mr. Callier found himself living out on the streets in Brenham, TX. After months of struggles and battling the loss of the life he once knew, he came to Houston looking for change. 

Although Mr. Callier was still experiencing homelessness after he arrived in Houston, his fortunes started to change here. In November 2019, the Coalition for the Homeless led the planning and coordination of a Navigation Event at the Beacon where dozens of agencies came together in a single location to quickly move people experiencing homelessness through the navigation process as quickly as possible.

It was here where a member of SEARCH Homeless Services’ outreach team, Otha connected with Mr. Callier and began to change his life.

That day, Otha brought Mr. Callier into the event and helped walk him through the process of getting an assessment, getting enrolled, and beginning the procedure for housing.

Mr. Callier credits Otha with ending his homelessness; he shared that if Otha hadn’t approached him and invited him into this event he wouldn’t have gone through the navigation process and moved into housing.

After the Navigation Event, Mr. Callier worked with Micah, a Housing Navigator with the Coalition for the Homeless, who worked to complete all the necessary requirements for housing, applying for apartments, and moving in. On December 19, a little over a month after the Navigation Event, Mr. Callier moved off of the street and into a home to call his own for the first time in four years!

“To have a house with walls is a blessing!” says Mr. Callier.  

When we asked Mr. Callier what his biggest challenge was while experiencing homelessness he said, “It’s easy to become comfortable in an uncomfortable situation when you can’t change it instantly.” One example of that was getting a tent and how it was both a blessing - community, ownership, comfort - and a curse – a tent made homelessness feel more permanent and made him feel outcasted from society.

One of the biggest changes for Mr. Callier since moving into housing has been establishing a social network within his new complex and neighborhood. He expressed how it was hard to get comfortable living inside when his friends and life on the streets was all he had known for four years.

But he also said that having a schedule, appointments, and goals with his case manager, and living in a complex where other individuals who previously experienced homeless now live are all helping him to create the new life he’s been dreaming of for years.

“There are quite a few of us who are now housed, and we are friends,” said Mr. Callier. “[We] talk about the past and are determined not to go back. Although there was a community we built [on the streets], we are in a better place now and want to work hard to maintain this success.”

Dec 4, 2019

Meaningful Collobrations, Elevating Lives...

Homeless Court
Homeless Court

If you were to ask Scot More, Program Analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, what his favorite part of his job is, he will tell you without even batting an eye, “Homeless Court,” even though it only makes up about 10 percent of the work he does every day. As I sat down to do my usual staff spotlight interview for the month of May, Scot refused to let me highlight his personal accomplishments (this is no shock to anyone who knows him), but asked me to instead focus on a program that has been close to his heart for over 13 years.

What is Homeless Court?

Homeless Court is a special Court session for homeless defendants to resolve outstanding misdemeanor offenses and warrants within the City of Houston’s Municipal Courts. The idea for a homeless court system began in San Diego, California in 1989, and was adopted in the Houston area in 2006.

Homeless Court has been able to build partnerships between the courts, local emergency shelters and homeless service agencies, to help individuals experiencing homelessness resolve misdemeanor offenses without being taken into custody with alternative sentencing options.

Participants in Homeless Court sign up on a voluntary basis by requesting to be a part of the program through a local homeless service provider. Homeless Court addresses all class C misdemeanor offenses within the City of Houston. Some of these offenses could include – failure to pay bus fare, traffic
violations, or sleeping in a public park.

Alternative Sentencing

“A lot of people experiencing homelessness are afraid of the court system,” said Scot. “They don’t believe that they won’t go to jail until they actually go through the process.” Scot works as the Homeless Court liaison for the Coalition and says a lot of the time he is there mainly to help calm people’s nerves.

One of the biggest proponents of Homeless Court is that no participant will be taken into custody against their will. And this component is something every judge, defense attorney, prosecutor and homeless service agency has agreed on.

Scot says the biggest hurdle for clients is simply showing up. Once they are there, the judge will offer the participant an alternative sentencing option. Usually this sentence will be community service or activities in the shelter program in which the participant is enrolled in*. Each shelter has its own requirements for participants to access the Homeless Court program.

The three judges currently presiding over Homeless Court are Judge Leigh St. Germain, Judge Imelda Castillo, and Judge Grantham Coleman.

What Actually Happens During Homeless Court

This week I had the opportunity to observe a Homeless Court Docket at the City of Houston Municipal Court. When I arrived, many of the participants were already there, each meeting with Scot individually as he got them checked in and gave them any necessary documents. Presiding over this docket was Judge Castillo, with approximately 20 individuals scheduled to participate.

Before the session was started, Scot once again assured each person that the judge would be waiving all fees and ordering each person community service for the hard work they had done and would continue to do. Scot also provided additional resources for those who needed them.

Judge Castillo then began to call participants up one by one. For every person she called to the stand, she dug deeper than their record, and got to know them on a more personal level. Judge Castillo asked questions about how their programs were going, what their plans were for the future, and if they were happy with their current situation. She never treated any of the participants like they were a criminal but showed compassion for the fact that they had fallen on hard times and were trying their hardest to move forward.

“I have been presiding over Homeless Court dockets for about 11 years,” said Judge Castillo. “It is so incredibly rewarding to see people making positive changes to their lives and becoming more stable.” Judge Castillo says by waiving these types of fines or warrants, the participants have one less thing to worry about and it helps each of them become more productive citizens.

Dawn, one of the individuals who participated in this docket, says the amount of relief she feels is indescribable. “You have no idea what a weight this is off our shoulders,” said Dawn. “I can now go get my license renewed, which means I can finally go apply for jobs, and start the next chapter of my life.”

Without this crucial program we would be unable to continue our work of making homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. 

Aug 29, 2019

Homelessness Is Not In Anyone's Plan - Ms. Knox's

Ms. Knox
Ms. Knox

Originally from the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, Ms. Knox became displaced after her life was turned upside down by the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although she spent some time in Omaha, Nebraska, Ms. Knox eventually settled in Houston where another hurricane would eventually wreak havoc on her life once again.

 Ms.Knox, a grandmother to over 35 grandchildren, never thought she would have to deal with the after effects of not just one, but two major hurricanes. After Hurricane Harvey, flood waters forced her out of her home in August of 2017 and she found temporary shelter in a hotel. Once the time came for her to leave the hotel, the only option she had left was sleeping in her car. Eventually Ms. Knox ended up losing her car and was forced to live out of a tent in North Houston.

“I was battling with insects and racoons in the woods, I really thought I had gone through the worst of it, but I was wrong,” said Ms. Knox. “I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and had a mastectomy; about a year ago I found a lump again for the first time since being in remission, and after they did a biopsy, they determined my cancer was back for a second time.”

Ms. Knox knew she didn’t want to battle cancer again, much less battle it without a roof over her head. She says she feels eternally grateful to 1960 Hope Center, a partner organization of The Way Home that offers shelter from inclement weather, clean restrooms, hot showers, laundry facilities, lunch and more, for leading her towards a permanent housing solution. Through the Hope Center, Ms. Knox was able to get connected with Fernando Torres at Avenue 360 Health and Wellness, who worked diligently to find her a home of her own again.

In early November Ms. Knox was finally about to walk through the doors of her new home with help from Harmony House. “It was really overwhelming at first, I was extremely restless for the first few nights,” said Ms. Knox. “When you’re used to fighting off the elements and rodents, it takes a little while to get used to.”

Although Ms. Knox will be battling her cancer head-on in the months ahead, she says she feels so blessed that she can have a home to come back to every day. She said the next steps will be determining the right course of treatment and if any additional surgeries will be needed.

When asked what she wishes others knew about those experiencing homelessness, Ms. Knox said, “Don’t be judgmental towards anyone, homelessness really can happen to anyone. Do you think I pictured myself living in the woods fighting off the elements for over a year? Absolutely not.

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