No one could have imagined when Star of Hope first opened its doors to indigent men that a time would come when homeless women and children would come knocking, in search of survival and safety. But by the mid-1980s, that is exactly what happened. The face of homelessness was changing, becoming softer, younger– more vulnerable. Something had to be done to help this new influx. So in 1986, the Women & Family Emergency Shelter, with its 100-bed capacity, came into being, the first shelter of its kind in Houston.
As the population of homeless women and families continued to grow, Star of Hope grew. In 1989, the Women and Family Emergency Shelter was rebuilt in its present location at 419 Dowling Street. It is a 51,000 square foot haven that can house up to 300 people, many of whom are children. Clients are welcome to stay one night or up to 90 days. The shelter is comfortable and self-contained, designed to meet the specific needs of homeless women and families. On any given day, it is filled to capacity with an average of 160 or more children on the premises. At times, as many as 65 of these children are under the age of two years. Star of Hope is committed to keeping families together in a safe, stable environment, where they can enjoy the privacy of their own space and the sense of dignity that brings. In this way, they can focus on making positive life-changes.
Within the facility, clients find every, necessary resource for restructuring their lives, whether their stay is brief or extended. Staff members, counselors, and a chaplain are on hand to assist them with their concerns, make referrals for housing and access their needs on a daily basis. What’s more, there are numerous services available to them: a medical clinic, a licensed daycare and preschool area, a teen activity room, a computer learning center and much more. Volunteer tutors come daily after school to assist the children and help with homework and enrichment activities. Education is encouraged for all clients.
One of the responsibilities of adult clients is to attend classes and perform chores during each week of their stay. The classes are based on Christian principles that clearly present the Gospel for those who are seeking a relationship with God. They are motivational in nature, and intended to help clients come to terms with the reality of their current situation, and find hope in moving forward toward positive goals. Once clients have clearly identified the goals, they are given an Action Plan which will help them to reach their goals. The shelter offers Bible studies and chapel services for children and adults.
One of the most exciting experiences in a child’s life at Star of Hope is boarding the big, yellow bus on the first day of school. It’s a culminating moment for parents and students—a tangible sign that things are falling into their rightful place and life is moving forward with purpose and stability.
The morning begins very early, activity around the shelter is quickened with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety, as the children rush off, backpacks and all, and the mom’s stand at the main doors, chocking back tears and waving good bye. Occasionally, we have a high school student who will continue at his or her regular school, with the help of public transportation. We support continuity of education and assist students with bus tokens.
Children who come to the shelter when the school year is in session usually begin attending classes the day after they arrive, outfitted with backpacks, school supplies, and wearing the uniforms that are required by the school’s dress code, just like the other children going to school from Star of Hope.
A special feature at the Women and Family Emergency Shelter is the R.O.C.K. (Reaching Out Catching Kids) program for children who have lost academic ground because of their homeless state and need remedial help, encouragement and educational enrichment in an atmosphere that is fun. This program is a partnership with the Junior League and meets two nights a week. The library and computer learning center provide additional opportunities for educational support.
During the Spring Break and summer, the children’s program is buzzing with activities like vacation Bible school, arts and craft projects, and field trips. The first week of July, the children go to Camp Good News. Many of our children have never been outside the urban areas to experience the peace and freedom of the country. And when it it’s time to leave the camp site and come home, there are always lots of tears.
Star of Hope has an excellent program for babies, toddlers, and pre-k children who are given a head start in cognitive skills and have the benefit of many, learning tools designed to develop their curiosity, interest, and acumen.
In May 2002, the mission held a groundbreaking ceremony for the June Waggoner House of Hope. Dedicated on March 5, 2004 the two story, 11,000-foot facility was constructed on the grounds of the shelter and is our first facility dedicated exclusively to children. Located across a playground and grassy courtyard from the shelter, the House of Hope provides supervised services for children from infants to age eighteen. Several rooms are devoted to after-school study and enrichment programs. A teen gathering room offers a safe “space” for middle school and high school students who return after school to do their homework and relax. Computers, books and other materials are supplied. Parents attending classes or working in the Family Service Center during the day are free to concentrate on skills necessary to recover from homelessness and are quickly available if a child is sick or needs special attention.
There is much happening at the Women & Family Emergency Shelter, which recently underwent a million dollar renovation project at the Shelter to better meet our guests’ present and future needs.