Walk with the Homeless

Participants in the Walk with the Homeless event on Saturday hear from speakers who experienced homelessness at Christ’s Kitchen in Victoria.

With only a small backpack containing a change of clothes and a sleeping bag, Laurie Beaver picked out a spot in Victoria’s DeLeon Plaza to spend Friday evening.

That night, alongside her daughter and two granddaughters, the 58-year-old Seadrift resident was among about a dozen participants to spend the night unsheltered from the elements to get a sense of what a night is like for those experiencing homelessness.

The event, which was held as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, was organized by United Way of the Crossroads to raise money for Promise Pointe, a community of tiny homes built to provide affordable, long-term housing for people who are homeless or at risk of ending up on the street.

The Sleep Out participants bore the brunt of sub-50 degree temperatures during the night, and they were not allowed to bring coolers, large amounts of food or tents. Beaver said the hardest part of the experience was finding a position comfortable enough to sleep.

“It was like I was on a rotisserie. I was tossing and turning so much,” she said. “We laid down some cardboard and had sleeping bags, and I used my backpack as a pillow. It is impossible to get comfortable.”

Jill Blucher, a community engagement coordinator for United Way of the Crossroads, said the night brought with it a cacophony of trains, passing vehicles, bugs and animals.

“The buildings around (DeLeon Plaza) create a sort of echo chamber. All of the noises were amplified, and it began to feel like there was a train or something every 30 minutes,” she said. “I dozed off some through the night, but I didn’t really get any sleep.”

In the morning, the group participated in the Walk with the Homeless, which saw them visiting seven different places in Victoria that play a critical role in the lives of Victoria residents experiencing homelessness. They began at Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry and walked to the Victoria Public Library, First United Methodist Church, Restoration House Ministries and Mid-Coast Family Services before ending at Christ’s Kitchen, a local soup kitchen.

At each location, the participants heard about what role the different facilities take in supporting efforts. Kem Calk, a community health worker with Be Well Victoria who made it to 4 a.m. during the Sleep Out before going home, said the walk was very informative.

“We learned that the library gives folks access to the internet and email, which is important in today’s age,” she said. “We learned a lot of things you would not otherwise hear about unless you were experiencing homelessness.”

For Blucher, the most eye-opening moment came when she needed to walk back to DeLeon Plaza to pick something up. Still weary and sporting her backpack from the night before, she said people in passing vehicles did not acknowledge her as she walked the streets.

“It was like I invisible. People avert their gaze at the red lights,” she said. “It was surreal, and it was only a slice of what people experiencing homeless feel every day — invisible.”

The group was treated to a meal after hearing from speakers at Christ’s Kitchen, some of which experienced homelessness themselves and talked about their experience.

Trish Hastings, executive director of the soup kitchen, said the need for support services for people experiencing homelessness has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and events like Friday and Saturday’s are an important part of the solution.

“So far this year, we have given out 130,000 meals at the kitchen ... the need is there,” she said. “It’s great to see that so many people came out to participate.”

More events are scheduled in Victoria for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

On Wednesday through Dec. 6, the United Way CommUNITY Book Club will meet at Texian Books, 201 S. Main St., to read “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” Residents are invited to join at any point of the month whether or not they can attend every meeting.

The Center for Peace Victoria, United Way, Be Well Victoria and the University of Houston-Victoria Student Life will host a conversation event at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30 to discuss what was learned during the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month. That conversation will be held at University of Houston-Victoria Commons, 3006 N. Ben Wilson St.

More information can be found at unitedwaycrossroads.org/homelessness-and-hunger-conversation.

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Chase covers breaking news, crime and courts for the Advocate. He can be reached at 361-574-1286, crogers@vicad.com or at @chasedrogers.

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Breaking News & Public Safety Reporter

Chase writes about crime and courts for the Victoria Advocate. He grew up in the Dallas–Fort Worth area before attending Texas State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mass communication and journalism.

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