Putting Lives Back Together at Beacon Day Shelter

There is a shelter smack dab in the middle of downtown Houston where those who are homeless are welcome to go. There are no beds, and no overnight hours.

This place, decorated with a scattered array of cafeteria tables and not much more, is known as The Beacon. This is a homeless shelter for the daylight hours.

See more: Houston's Hidden Homeless

Clients can use the phone, eat a warm meal, or simply find a seat or a corner to rest in. Shower and restroom facilities are available, as are laundry services. Beacon clients are even offered a set of scrubs to wear while volunteers wash their clothing, because that's often the only clothing they own.

The Beacon's concept is unique, and it focuses on the daytime to give some respect and dignity back to a population that is often overlooked. That concept seems to be working, though. The Beacon is known as one of the "safe places" in the city. And there's nothing scary about it, according to the clients, except maybe the food. Too many vegetables.

Read: Reality Check: Calling the Side of the Freeway Home

The programs at The Beacon have been around since 2007, but they've grown rapidly in recent years. They now serve about 800 clients a day, up from the 60 or so in their early years.

They've also added programs targeted at long-term solutions as well, in a bid to meet growing demand. There is now the option to receive help by way of case management or mentoring programs for those clients who are interested, in addition to the other services that are available.

Carl Payne
It is outside of The Beacon that we met some of the most colorful additions to this week's feature, Carl and Reginald. Their stories continue after the jump and work as a preview to this week's Houston Press print feature on Houston's homeless.

At 58 years old, Carl Payne is having little luck with employment. He works temporary jobs when they're available, but his age and a felony record have kept him from doing much more with himself lately.

He's one of the many men standing outside of The Beacon, waiting for the doors to open. Carl knows to get here early, since he comes here a lot. It's better than sitting on the streets, but he'd rather be home with his wife and child. He can't go home, though.

Not until he's got one to call his own, anyway.

For now, Carl's wife's parents have allowed her and their 8-year-old child to stay in their home while they wait on Carl to find work. But Carl, on the other hand, is not welcome.

He stays in shelters around the city, navigating the never-ending lines and the continual shuffle back out onto the streets when it's closing time.

The choice between the shelter and nights on the street was an easy one for Carl. Life outside the shelter is just too dangerous at night, and too many people come up missing in the dark. He can't risk it; he has a family he wants to get home to once he's got it together.

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