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Homes for the homeless

Given the previous story about the problem of dealing with mentally ill homeless folks that the jails have, this article about a proposed shelter for them is quite timely.

The list of those who support Magnolia Glen, a project that would provide permanent rooms for 220 homeless, is daunting: Houston Mayor Bill White, all five members of Harris County Commissioners Court, area mental health advocates, top city housing officials.

Commissioners Court in March awarded $1.67 million in federal grant money for the project, expecting the city to approve its share, $4 million, a short time later. But the project is teetering and may not happen because one official has said the project’s bevy of influential supporters are wrong.

“I understand the facility, and I understand what it does. If it were going in another district, I could support it. But I will not support it in District I,” Councilman James Rodriguez. “My district already has enough (such housing for the homeless) and soup kitchens. I feel we need to spread new facilities around.”

White has taken the position that he will not force the district councilman to accept a facility that he opposes.

But White said he hasn’t given up on the project. He urged Rodriguez and the Eastwood Civic Association to meet with Magnolia Glen’s developer, the nonprofit Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, and supporters of the project to try to reach common ground.

[…]

The 220 units of housing would be the biggest project undertaken since the commission in 2006 launched a 10-year effort to find homes for the estimated 10,000 homeless in Harris County. The group concluded that 7,000 rooms and apartments are needed. About 200 such units have been created since 2006.

“The city was looking for a dramatic way to move towards meeting its 10-year homeless plan,” said Tom Lord, president of the nonprofit that has proposed buying Magnolia Glen for $5.85 million and then turning it into permanent housing for the homeless.

Case managers, including supervisors of the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, would be on duty at all times. Residents would pay about $425 a month in rent for a single room that includes a small refrigerator and a microwave.

The federal government awards grants for such housing because it has proven to help get the homeless off the street and help prevent them from cycling through jails and emergency psychiatric wards, where they often land when they stop taking prescribed psychotropic medications.

[…]

White said he supports Magnolia Glen in part because it would be a bargain. Building similar new rooms for the homeless would cost about $75,000 a unit. The cost will be $26,000 a unit at Magnolia Glen, White said.

White said he understands that most facilities for the homeless should not be located in the same areas.

Former Councilman Gordon Quan, a member of the blue-ribbon commission, said he keeps that policy in mind, but money helps determine where sites can be found.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you put this in River Oaks or Memorial?’ We couldn’t afford the land in River Oaks. But we are cognizant that these need to be spread around,” he said.

I have a lot of sympathy for CM Rodriguez’s position. As a commenter on that story notes, Eastwood is already the home of several such facilities. They do need to be distributed around the city more. On the other hand, given the low cost of the Magnolia and the fact that the neighborhood is not uniformly opposed to it, perhaps there’s some kind of accommodation that can be reached. It would be a shame to lose out on this kind of opportunity, given the great need for more of these homes.

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One Comment

  1. Sergio Davila says:

    Charles,

    I am very troubled by your reasoning to keep pursuing this project. If you would poll folks in Eastwood and Second Ward, you will find an overwhelming majority against this project. Why? There is a history of this type of facility in the East End and it has not been good. Please read the history below and remind me again why CM Rodriguez should try to reach an accommodation for a project that will attract more men with a history of alcohol/drug abuse and felons to the East End.

    Here is a recent history of the criminal activity committed by clients of the Open Door Mission located at 5803 Harrisburg (not far from the proposed Magnolia Glen Project):

    August 2003 – In December 2001, Herbert James Melton was charged with capital murder in the shootings of his wife, Louisiana Plumber Melton, 37, on the day before their divorce was final, and her boyfriend, Phillip L. Brown, 40.
    He lived at the Open Door Mission in the East End, moved into an apartment, met a girlfriend and worked day labor. He had adopted the name “Angel James” and lost more than 40 pounds, drastically altering his appearance. Source: Houston Chronicle

    http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2003_3680443

    November 2003 – East End store operator Nguyen Lu, who had been robbed before, cooperated with one or possibly two robbers and handed over about $200 on Wednesday.
    Still, the widowed mother of three was led to a back room of the store at 5417 Harrisburg and fatally shot. A customer discovered her body about 11 a.m. Source: Houston Chronicle

    http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2003_3707434

    Many area residents witnessed HPD officers, on the day of the shooting, proceed to the Open Door Mission and look for the killer Calvin Letroy Hunter. Several Open Door Mission clients were removed from 5803 Harrisburg by HPD that day. Open Door Mission has admitted the Calvin Letroy Hunter only stayed at their facility one day and is using this weak justification to deflect in any responsibility for Mr. Hunter?s actions.

    February 2007 ? KPRC Channel 2 News finds 12 parolees finishing sentences from aggravated robbery to murder at the Open Door Mission.

    http://www.click2houston.com/video/11010766/index.html

    Ex-Cons Create Crime Clusters In Houston Neighborhoods
    Feb. 13, 2007: Rapists, murderers and thieves — ex-cons are shacking up five to 10 to a house, creating clusters of crime all over Houston. KPRC Local 2 Investigates reveals where these houses are and who’s dumping violent offenders in your neighborhood.

    December 2007 – Troopers: Homeless Felons Worked As Security Guards
    By Elizabeth Scarborough
    POSTED: 8:03 am CST December 19, 2007

    http://www.click2houston.com/news/14888260/detail.html

    Trooper Larry Shimek said the Carlos Posadas was picking up the homeless felons from a homeless shelter on Harrisburg. In fact, Trooper Shimek has confirmed to Sergio Davila that one had a Texas Driver License with 5803 Harrisburg as his address.

    This Open Door resident mentioned to the DPS Trooper that he knew the Open Door’s security guard and getting back into the Mission beyond closing hours was not a problem.

    January 2008 ? From the KHOU Channel 11News story linked below, residents find out that the Open Door Mission is a Texas Department of Criminal Justice-approved facility that houses parolees.

    http://www.khou.com/topstories/stories/khou080123_tnt_sexoffenders.5007b161.html

    Yet, the Open Door Mission does not have the common decency to inform area residents that they are taking in parolees from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.