Black Folks Are Advocating for the Unhoused

dfwnewsa | April 3, 2024 | 0 | Dallas News

Black Folks Are Advocating for the Unhoused

By Aswad Walker

Originally appeared in Word in Black

According to various sources, the number of homeless persons in Houston at any given moment in 2023 was roughly 3,300. This number may feel low to persons who frequently drive along Bayou City streets, feeder roads, and other areas where large numbers of the unhoused congregate.

And for good reason.

That number is dwarfed when considering that in 2021, more than 21,000 people in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties accessed some type of homeless service. And when those who sought homelessness prevention and other services (i.e. clothing or food assistance) are added, the number jumps to more than 52,000 people.

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And homelessness isn’t just a condition that happens to “other” people. With over 16% of Harris County residents living in poverty (a 2021 number that doesn’t include those teetering on the brink of poverty), homelessness for many could be just one missed check, one serious medical emergency, or one lost job away.

Case in point, last year 42% of unsheltered people were homeless for the first time — up from 40% in 2022. And Black people made up 55% of people living in the Greater Houston area experiencing homelessness even though they comprised only 20% of the area’s population.

So, with Blacks enduring an outsized percentage of this reality, who are local Blacks working on the front lines to combat this crisis?

Dr. Rudy & Juanita Rasmus, Bread of Life Inc.

Founded in 1992 by the Rasmuses, Bread of Life, Inc. began by serving hot meals to Houston’s homeless, quickly expanding to offer a broad range of services and support. In partnership with Beyonce’s BeyGOOD and Tina Knowles-Lawson, they’ve conducted anti-hunger initiatives and disaster relief efforts. Nearly three decades later, Bread of Life continues to aid underserved communities in Houston through programs in homelessness, health, hunger relief, and their community radio station KMAZ The Amazing 102.5 FM.

Rudy Rasmus was a self-described non-believer who didn’t really do the church thing for a long time, but was inspired by the words of one particular televangelist, Robert Schuler.

“During his intro he would always say one thing that always resonated with me – ‘Find a need and fill it.’ And I would say, pointing to the television, ‘Yeah! That’s what Christians need to be doing, finding a need and filling it instead of all this other stuff. So, when given an opportunity to serve the community, instead of looking around for something that was convenient for me, I looked immediately to the people who were right in front of me. And that was a very robust homeless community. And we just served that community right where we were, with everything we had.”

Inspired by his mentor, a national legend in homeless ministry, San Francisco’s Reverend Cecil Williams, Rasmus and his wife Juanita have become national leaders in this space, as well, with Bread of Life, Inc. (BOL)focusing on the three H’s: homelessness, healthcare access and hunger

“The way we impact homelessness is by providing a continuum of care and concern for people either through actual placement in a unit that we have built, either through the case management process by identifying and helping people to transition into and by educating people with a skill or a trade that can give them economic capacity,” said Rasmus.

Regarding the second “H” (health), Rasmus says BOL “focuses on closing the gap between the service providers and those folk who are the most underserved, and helping to navigate the real complex matrix of services for that very underserved community.” They not only provide community health workers in strategic places in the community’s health infrastructure, they also train people to become certified community health workers which is a new field emerging in healthcare.

And BOL has been addressing that third “h” (hunger and food insecurity) for a long time, starting with the serving of a hot meal, 500 a day for about 20 years.

In 2023 alone, through the generosity of its donors, BOL donated $3.5 million to families in need, delivered $30.1 million in products and supplies to needy families (freeing up limited funds for them to purchase food), and provided over 44,000 individuals with food and supplies.

And that’s not counting the five housing developments created (the most recent being the Rasmus Temenos Place Apartments) to provide housing opportunities for the houseless and more.

The Rasmuses, however, are not the only Blacks giving time, energy and service to Houston’s unhoused.

Toni Benson-Atkinson, Coalition for the Homeless (CFH)

CFH is considered the leader of the homeless response system for Harris, Ft. Bend and Montgomery counties. Founded in 1982 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1988, CFH acts as a catalyst, uniting partners and maximizing resources to move people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing with supportive services. Benson-Atkinson, CFH’s director of Outreach and Coordinated Access, works with the organization’s Rapid Rehousing program, and brings 10+ years of experience in various fields of social service, adding to her impact in this area.

Stanley Phill, a Caring Safe Place

Phill, founder and senior pastor of A Safe Place Church, is also the founder and executive director of A Caring Safe Place, Inc. (ACSP), a transitional living facility for men. Phill’s passion, love and commitment to people have impacted many within the church and Houston’s 5th Ward Community.

I’ve always had a desire to build, to take nothing and make it something.

Phill ran a transitional living facility out in Fifth Ward for HIV-positive men with drug addictions but outgrew the space. He approached the City for support and was awarded $1.4 million to build ACSP.

“At the time I wasn’t a developer, but I took it on and I got a contracting company and we built that facility on time, under budget with no change orders in the heart of Fifth Ward under my watch. And from that moment it struck a chord in me, because we were in the Fifth Ward Enhanced Enterprise Zone and in that area there’s pockets of poverty. The numbers were high. The rates of recidivism and all of those things were high. I built that facility, and now people come from all over the country. We house them there. It’s a first-class, state-of-the-art transitional living facility in the heart of Fifth Ward. From that, we’ve built a 15-unit apartment complex about a mile from there, Lydia’s Place Apartments, named after my auntie.

Demetria Qualls, Hearts of Rescue

Qualls is the founder and executive director of Hearts of Rescue, a nonprofit organization that offers mobile showers to members of the unhoused homeless community. Qualla, an associate minister at the Luke Humble, along with being a mother, wife and IT director, started the organization in 2009, providing necessities (food, clothing, etc.) to shelters until she received a divine message during the COVID-19 pandemic to “clean God’s people.”

Through partnerships with the Church Project (Woodlands), which loans HOR their two-shower unit trailer, and Bammel Church of Christ’s Manna Food Pantry (2700 Cypress Creek Parkway, Houston TX 77068), HOR ministers to the homeless in the FM 1960 and Kurkendal area by providing opportunities to shower and receive a word, along with a meal and self-care items.

Resources

· Mayor’s Office for Homeless Initiatives manages the City of Houston’s response to homelessness by coordinating the efforts of various City agencies, including the Housing and Community Development Department, the Health and Human Services Department, the Houston Police Department and others.

· Food Not Bombs sets up near the downtown library and serves meals to houseless individuals.

· Main Street Ministries Operation ID program assists clients in gathering supporting documentation, completing forms and funding an official state-issued ID and related documentation. This is important because without a photo ID people are unable to obtain a job, secure housing, open a bank account, enroll their kids in school, vote, and experience other life-stabilizing goals.

· Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County acts as a catalyst, uniting partners and maximizing resources to move people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing with supportive services.

· The Beacon is a non-profit organization that serves individuals experiencing homelessness by providing daily services, civil legal aid, counseling and mentoring and housing case management. Beacon Law assist clients with Social Security applications for benefits

· Houston Food Bank is a certified member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network, that distributes fresh produce, meat and nonperishables and prepares nutritious hot meals for kids in our state-of-the-art Keegan Kitchen. HFB also assists clients with the application for food stamps and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

· St. Hope Foundation provides HIV education on site.

· Houston Recovery Center (a.k.a. Sobering Center) provides education and assists consumers with substance use and recovery.

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The post Black Folks Are Advocating for the Unhoused appeared first on Dallas Weekly.

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