Galveston's new program to fight homelessness

October 28, 2009 4:56:31 PM PDT
Whether it's Hurricane Ike or the rough economy, the City of Galveston has a major problem. Homelessness on the island is rising. It comes at a time when some social services programs are still not fully restored. The city hopes its new plan will get people off the streets.

When Shannon Griffin of the Gulf Coast Center corners the street in a patrol car, he's not necessarily looking for hardened criminals.

"When they're released they hang out on this corner and wait for somebody to come pick them up so they can go to work," said Griffin.

Instead what he's on the hunt for are people who have no place to go.

"If I'm not addressing them, they end up in the ER using the ER as a doctor which we're trying to keep that from happening," Griffin said.

This is the City of Galveston's new effort to crack down on homelessness. The partnership between the Galveston Police Department and the Gulf Coast Center works to identify then help folks who live on the streets.

People like Steven James, who has spent years sleeping in alleyways and making money by washing cars.

"Very dangerous at most times, yea," said James.

Since Hurricane Ike the homeless population in the Galveston-Brazoria County area has skyrocketed, more than tripling from the year before. And we're not just talking about people whose homes were washed away in the storm. It's also affected people who came in after the hurricane to help rebuild the city.

"They're not getting paid the way they were supposed to be getting paid from contractors who promised their money after they got done. They've skipped out of town which we've heard a lot of," said Salvation Army Major Elda Flores.

The Salvation Army reports it feeds more than 200 people a day at its shelter in Galveston. The problem is when the shelter closes during the day and many of the folks go right back on the street.

"I come back down here. I got with the program, but you know you don't have no stability," said Colbert Butler, who is homeless.

It's why this new partnership aims to establish a new day shelter, giving a place for people to go during daylight hours.

"They have nowhere to go. A lot of your crimes are petty crimes, trespassing," said Griffin.

The ultimate goal is to get homeless people off the streets into steady programs. Lending a hand to folks like Steven James who are on the verge of making a change.

"Lately I've been thinking real bad, real bad because I'm getting older and it ain't the ticket, it ain't the ticket out here on the street," said James.

The Gulf Coast Center says it has already committed $80,000 for the proposed day center, but it's still looking for a site to house the program.

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