William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 23 Sep 2005 16:27:46 -0400

Sept. 23, 2005


For homeless, search for shelter is nothing new


 Joe Jones couldn't evacuate even if he wanted to.
Simply finding shelter and food was an overwhelming task today. Even the
trash cans near downtown restaurants, where the Houston native finds most of
his meals, had run empty.
"I'm hungry. I'm thirsty,'' said Jones, who's lived on the streets since
losing his job two weeks ago.
 Harris County workers chased him from his usual stomping grounds near the
county jail Friday afternoon, encouraging him to seek higher ground near the
Pierce Elevated, where I-45 carries away evacuees overhead.
"I'm going to play it by ear,'' said Jones, a thin man wearing a dirty
T-shirt and carrying a backpack. "I'm pretty durable. I'll find some kind of
way out of it. My main concern is getting soaking wet and then being cold.''
Dozens of homeless people wandered around the downtown area today, many
still unsure about where they will take shelter tonight. Some, like Jones,
have been following Hurricane Rita closely, through TV screens in store
windows and reading the front page of the newspaper inside vending machines.
Others seemed barely aware of the storm's approach.
With a warm breeze starting to whip up construction dust,  James Johnson,
39, was less frightened of Hurricane Rita's approach than frustrated that
his search through trash cans was turning up little food.
While he didn't believe that a serious storm was actually drawing near,
Johnson said he would take shelter in a downtown parking garage.
"I'll just walk around here and try to find a little shelter,'' he said.
As Brian Liberto sat at a downtown bus station this morning, he wondered
where he will go to escape Hurricane Rita's wrath.
Like many other downtown residents without a home, much less a car, he will
most likely make his way back to one of the downtown homeless shelters this
afternoon to get something to eat and wait out the storm. He prefers the
Salvation Army shelter on Main.
"Nobody told me where to go," he said. "But I slept there last night, and
they said I could go back tonight."
Neville Pottinger, a staff member at the Main Salvation Army shelter, said
his group is  trying to gather in as many people as possible.
The shelter has no buses to pick people up, but he said anyone who can make
it to the shelter can stay the night.
"We will make room," he said.
Joseph Gambino sat in a downtown park this morning and wondered if the
hurricane was really coming toward the city. He said if the weather got bad,
he would to go the Star of Hope Mission tonight to brace for the storm.
"I can always go there," he said.
Star of Hope bused about 100 homeless people to mission in Dallas and
northern cities earlier in the week. They were trying to move more people
north and west but were having a tough time finding buses.
As today progressed, homeless Houstonians and even stranded motorist were
coming into Star of Hope's only open shelter at 419 Dowling, where at least
80 people planned to try to weather the storm.
"Police are bringing people to us that have been left on the side of the
road. I expect people will drift in here all day long,'' said Jim Newlin,
vice president of operations for Star of Hope. "We have supplies. It's a
very stout building. We're ready,'' he said.
Blocks away, a line of small Metro buses lined Walker waiting assignments to
pick up people who have no way to evacuate.
Bobby Ramirez, an assistant supervisor for Metro, was there to match drivers
to requests to be picked up. He said the buses are picking up anyone who
calls 311 for help with evacuating, including homeless people. Ramirez said
drivers are taking people to the Sam Houston Racetrack for shelter.
"We are picking up anyone who requested a ride," he said.
Some homeless people, however, are reluctant to go so far away from the
familiar streets of Houston.
One homeless man, who was sitting on Travis, said he dialed 311 from a
payphone and a Metro swung by to pick him up. The man, who did not want to
give his name, said he didn't end up boarding the bus because he didn't want
to go to the racetrack
There are an estimated 10,000 homeless people living in Houston, according
to Healthcare for the Homeless - Houston Inc., an organization that provides
medical help to the city's homeless population.