COMMENTARY: Homelessness remains a problem but a solvable one

Michael Sudhalter

Michael Sudhalter

Driving through Fort Bend County, it’s difficult to believe that some of our friends and neighbors are battling homelessness.

The problem isn’t as obvious as it is in pockets of Houston where homeless people beg for change on the side of the road and live under bridges or shelters.

In Fort Bend, some homeless families may move from one friend/relative’s place to another until they wear out their welcome.

The next step could be living out of pay-by-the-week motel or out of a vehicle.

When those options are exhausted, there are few others, except for Fort Bend Family Promise, which has a waiting list.

“It’s a hard step to say ‘I can’t provide for my kids’,” said Vera Johnson, Executive Director of Fort Bend Family Promise.

In a country as wealthy as the United States, nobody should be homeless, and it’s not a problem that will be solved overnight.

But if any county can do it, it’s Fort Bend – one of the most charitable counties in the entire nation.

Public and non-profit collaboration – which is already strong – must became that much stronger to eradicate the problem.

Part of the problem is the false stereotype that people became homeless due to alcohol, drugs or bad behavior.

That is true in some cases, but when it comes to the families that show up at the Missouri City address of Fort Bend Family Promise, it could be anybody – even somebody you know.

A breadwinner loses his/her job during an economic downturn, and the family can only survive on savings for a few months.

Or a working class family that’s barely making ends has car troubles – and in the absence of public transportation – one of the parents can’t make it to work.

Work has no choice, but to fire them, and their already “paycheck to paycheck” existence collides head on with disaster.

That could happen whether the economy is booming or souring.

When families arrive at Fort Bend Family Promise, the approach is multi-faceted.

Last year, they helped 38 families leave homelessness behind and find the road back to stability.

“Our measure if how many left our program and didn’t come back,” said Johnson, pointing to the old ‘teach a person how to fish’ parable.

There are 20-25 families trying to get into the program, and 4-6 families per month that spend the night in host churches.

Once they’re able to get their situations stabilized, the families are placed into temporary housing.

Then, they find Permenant Housing, and Family Promise’s work still isn’t over. They follow with their clients for the next two years – they don’t turn their back on them.

As a community, we can’t turn our back on the homeless population. They may not be asking for our help, as homeless folks do on street corners in major cities.

But it’s up to us to be aware of the problem and to try and make their lives a little bit easier.

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