Reality Check: Calling the Side of the Freeway Home

Categories: Surreal Estate

freewaytent.jpg
Photo by Brian Austin

Way out in the west Houston suburbs, there is a tent sitting on the banks of the freeway.

It is obviously someone's home, and has been for a while. It is surrounded by milk crates and bags of clothing, and I always find myself surprised at how neatly everything is stacked. Care has been taken with the placement of the belongings, and it's evident even as they sit stacked atop the dirt embankment.

I pass that tent every day on my way into our midtown office, and although I've often wondered what the story was behind it, I never bothered to do much more than hypothesize. Daydreaming about what leads people to life on the bridge was comfortable. The reality was not.

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Photo by Brian Austin
It wasn't until I began to work on this week's feature, which takes an inside look at Houston's homeless community, that I ever attempted to find out what leads someone to call the side of the freeway home. I'm almost ashamed to say that now, but it seems important to admit. Perhaps I was afraid to know; afraid of what I would find out. Most of us are, I think.

I've visited that tent many times now in an effort to try and find out their story, but it has been to no avail. Whoever it is that lives there, with their neat stacks of clothing and the makeshift milk crate chairs, is gone most of the day, and I am still too afraid of what the night would bring.

The story of the person in the tent in suburbia is important to the narrative of homelessness, though. They all are.

Homelessness in Houston is a complex issue, and it is filled with unique stories about what has led to life as an unsheltered person. Each anecdote is important, from the man living under the bridge alone, to the young mother who is living on the streets and has lost her children to the state. It is with stories like theirs that we aim to paint a picture of what life is for our city's homeless population.



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4 comments
dermgerm
dermgerm

Well, there is a bit of dust in my eyes and embarrassment in my belly.

acolvin
acolvin

It's an old story that I covered in the mid-90s for a little weekly called Innerview magazine. The editors wanted the "man on the street" story, not the usual bleeding heart tripe that was so popular then. So me and my photographer went out and found the mentally lost and socially forgotten on Houston streets who, much to my surprise, were living and defecating not just under the Pierce Street Elevated in favor of the more dangerous "shelters," where muggings and theft were common, but in the abandoned  warehouses in the factory district -- a guarded HPD secret at the time.  And there the officers from HPD would bring them food daily, and I was touched to learn the longstanding bond between H-town police and the homeless. They knew then and they know now what's going on. Sometimes the most decent thing you can do is keep quiet. 

stonerbuddybongloader
stonerbuddybongloader

While I am sure you have the noblest of intentions to tell the story of the homeless, you have most likely brought a spotlight on this encampment, and as is with most things in the world today, the law enforcement powers that be will come to shoo them away...

angelica.leicht
angelica.leicht

@stonerbuddybongloader  I agree with you, and I struggled with whether or not to tell this -- and many of the other -- stories. But what it came down to was that ultimately, if we aren't talking about the problems that lead to homelessness, and if we aren't giving life to the stories of the folks living in this community, we are part of the problem with the ignorance of it. 


Also, to be fair, this tent is incredibly visible from the feeder. Had it been well hidden, I would have omitted it unless I'd been given the go ahead by the occupant. However, there's no doubt that the powers that be have seen it by now. 

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