Feb. 2021 – Winter Storm Update from Unsheltered Voices

A Messsage from Angela Leach

Unsheltered Voices is the U2C3 Community Ministry focused on building relationships between the unhoused community and our congregation through listening, presence, and food.

Last week, as Corpus Christi began to prepare for the impending storm, the Unsheltered Voices team began to communicate to our unhoused friends about the imminent weather danger. At the same time, Unsheltered Voices volunteers and other community groups were advocating with the city to ensure the opening of a low barrier emergency shelter. During the first shelter meeting on Feb 10th, the need for animal shelter was identified, as one of the barriers for people entering shelters is a concern for leaving behind their pets, who cannot come into the shelters with them. On Feb 11th, the city reached out and asked us to help coordinate transportation for pets from the emergency shelter to the animal shelter. I contacted Rev. Chris about requesting volunteers to help with this and Rev. Chris activated her animal foster network, leading to an enhanced plan for the animals, and involvement of the Gulf Coast Humane Society.  In the days leading up to the storm, Rev. Chris joined us with other foster friends Lara, Connie, and Tati to let our friends with pets know that there would be a safe place for their pets if they came into the shelter. We gave out collars and pet food, and as a result, Dixie, Cisco, Hound, Chief, and two kitties were brought into the shelter, and their owners came in out of the cold. This was a huge step in building trust with the community, showing that they mattered and that we cared. 

Meanwhile, a call went out to our congregation and the Tacos not Bombs volunteers for blankets, coats, gloves, sleeping bags, Sterno cans, easy-to-prep food, and tarps. Our porch overflowed with donations, so much so that we recruited one of our unhoused friends to help us sort and organize in ways that would make it easier to distribute. I don’t want to leave anyone out, but Deanne Pierce, Margaret Lucero, Christian Withers, Django and Karen, and Cliff Krcha are just a few of the members that made donations. When we checked in on one of the camps where we had taken supplies, a couple, Grim and Harley, had their tent at around 70 degrees. They were hosting a friend and sharing their supplies. We were well-stocked, and we were able to deepen trust and relationships by showing up and showing that we cared.

When the storm rolled in, people began to show up at the shelter. Eli Poore, our Community Ministry Intern, unhoused friend Rose and I drove up and down the icy streets, with Rose pointing out places where people would normally sleep. We offered shelter and warmth, and Rose provided information about the warning signs of hypothermia to the few people that chose to stay on the streets.

When we showed up at the shelter with our first group, many of whom were reluctant to seek shelter due to past negative encounters with shelters and shelter staff, the shelter let us down. There was a high police presence, which was extremely triggering for a criminalized and vulnerable community, many of whom regularly have negative interactions with the police. The security guard did not appear to be trained on how to interact with this population, and he escalated a situation with an already stressed community member who was triggered by his presence. The city shelter staff also determined that our unhoused friend could not volunteer- a very hurtful decision. In response, Rev. Chris asked for a moment alone with the shelter director and shared some wisdom about how they could treat people like guests moving forward (Yay Rev. Chris!!).  Eli went out and continued gathering people from the streets, while Angela and Rose stayed at the shelter, greeting each person that came in, welcoming our guests, explaining security protocol- there were no further security incidents that evening, and nearly 20 people came in from the cold.

Monday and Tuesday food was taken to the camp, and people were continuously offered shelter. Wednesday, Eli and Father Bruce Wilson held an Ash Wednesday service, acknowledging mortality and giving absolution to all- further bridging our divides and creating a beloved community. MHID workers were called into the shelter where they have been completing intake assessments. The crisis intervention trained officers also came to the shelter, and the cops that were not well trained in crisis intervention were set up in their own “cop shop” room out of view of the residents. At least three people were taken for emergency medical care for issues not related to the cold weather but urgently needing attention.  Medical appointments were made for others. Having people in the same place from one day to the next greatly enhanced the community’s capacity to provide interventions.

Today is Friday, February 19th, and we expect the shelter to close. We want to build on this experience to promote a low barrier shelter that is managed by people experiencing homelessness, not operated by a Christian or faith-based or outside organization, that applies and expands on the principles of Asset Based Community Development. There were 160 people that accessed emergency shelter, just a fraction of the number of people that literally have nowhere to go at night in Corpus Christi. We have much work to do, and the Unsheltered Voices leaders have been energized by being able to use their skills and assets to support their community.

I am so proud of our church, our minister Rev. Chris Hockman, and our Community Ministry Intern Eli Poore for having relationships that made it possible to quickly step up and support this vulnerable and worthy community.

Proud to be a UU today!
Angela Leach