By RaShayla Daniels, Maddy McCarty and Halima Fasasi
Alex Lamm, a resident at Grace Campus, said he loves work.
“Most of the people out here feel the same,” he said. “We want to work, we want to get up outta here. We want a home again.”
Just two years ago, Lamm said, he and his his father were truck drivers for a company in Plainview, Texas. When the company went out of business, they lost their house and have been homeless ever since.
He said he is grateful for a place like Grace Campus because it is somewhere he and his dad can go and sleep at night, away from the cold or wet weather.
“These people here that are running the place have helped us more than any other people have because my own family has somewhat turned their backs on me,” Lamm said.
Grace Campus, commonly known as Tent City, is a homeless community branching off Paul’s Project, a nonprofit organization. Maryann Webb, the campus coordinator, is working on earning government grants for funding. She is currently not paid for her work and relies on volunteers.
“We’re hoping grants will come,” Webb said. “We just try to keep the lights on and get donations of food to keep them fed.”
Webb said the facilities are full. Ninety-two people live in 46 tents, located off 13th Street and Avenue A, with 13 tents reserved strictly for women and couples. Webb said children are not allowed at Grace Campus because places like the Salvation Army shelter are more suitable for homeless families.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20.4 percent of Lubbock’s nearly 230,000-person population was below the poverty threshold between 2009 and 2013, compared to 17.6 percent throughout Texas.
Meanwhile, the help available from charities is hardly keeping up with the poverty. This is especially the case with homeless shelters, as illustrated by this story map.
Unemployment and underemployment are some of the main reasons for homelessness, especially in Lubbock, Hannah Dunaway said.
“In our program, we can only have four families at a time and, right now, we have 17 individuals in the program: 10 children and seven adults,” she said.
Dunaway said the families do not live in the Hope House but in the Promise House, which has four bedrooms, one for each family. A fifth bedroom is for volunteers.
Volunteers show up from Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and work in shifts at the Promise House during overnight, weeknight and evening stays.
When the weather gets colder, some shelters, like the Salvation Army’s, fill up during winter months, Dunaway said.
“We’re constantly full and have a waiting list here,” Dunaway said.
Typically the wait time to enter the Hope House ranges between two and three months.
“You don’t want to sleep on the streets for two to three months while you wait for a bed to open,” Dunaway said.
She said the most persistent people on the wait list are more likely to get a spot.
A complete list of resources for the homeless population in Lubbock is available through a handout dubbed the Pocket Pal.
Webb also agreed there is not enough space at the current shelters in Lubbock. She explained that the orange-and-white structure, or “barn” as she called it, next to the tents at Grace Campus houses the “true homeless,” which she said are those with no particular place to go back to at night. Webb said they are allowed to stay in the barn overnight, but must leave in the morning.
With such limited space at Grace Campus, Webb said the president of Paul’s Project wants to start another branch for families.
Mary Guetersloh, president of the Board for Directors at HOPE Community of Shalom, keeps statistics for the ministry. She said Lubbock could really use another day center like Hope House and Carpenter’s Church, in downtown Lubbock, devoted to more than just aiding the poor and homeless with food and benevolent resources.
The 86-year-old church began hosting food pantries, clothes closets and hot Sunday meals in February 2002, she said, and it continues to host such events weekly. The ministry rents out rooms to various organizations, after-school programs or businesses that provide the meals.
Guetersloh said Chick-Fil-A comes in every three months, and anyone who shows up can enjoy a free meal.
“We’ve got an exorbitant amount of families that are living with other people, friends or relatives,” Guetersloh said. “I’ve watched that spike, and that’s a great concern to me. Because we’re gonna have some displaced people a lot of the time that we don’t know about.”
Nearly 4,000 households have been helped by the ministry since 2004, and homelessness is increasing in Lubbock, Guetersloh said. She said anywhere between eight and 24 homeless people show up regularly.
She said the homeless crowd is a tough group to chart; she usually figures it out when they have an address but claim no income on the paperwork.
“We are right in the middle of a part of Lubbock that is what I call the working poor,” Guetersloh said. “They have a job, but it’s really tough and they have a family to provide for so they come over for a meal.”
Guetersloh is also a chair member of the South Plains Homeless Consortium (SPHC) committee, which according to the City of Lubbock website, is a group of individual advocates committed to serving the homeless and to serving human service agencies interested in uplifting the quality of life for the homeless.
She encourages anyone who wants to help to join Hope or any ministry fitting his or her interests.
“Don’t start your own because we do have so many,” Guetersloh said. “The churches in Lubbock are starting to step up to the plate. I’m really pleased about that.”
Dunaway, at Hope House, stressed the same to college students.
“You always get way more out of volunteering than you expect; coming here can be a rewarding experience,” Dunaway said. “A lot of people in our program are in their early 20s, so they’re going to be approximately the same age as a lot of the college students, and they’re going to be coming and hanging out with guys and girls that are in their early 20s and that they might have a bond with some of them. Sometimes, the volunteers and the families become friends.”
“If you want to make a change, then this is the place you should come,” Dunaway added.
At Grace Campus, Webb said the biggest need is for people to bring meals. She said typically someone brings a hot meal in the evenings, but on the afternoon of our interviews, the volunteers prepared dinner themselves.
“That’s their one hot meal of the day,” Webb said. “If every church and their Sunday school classes, if they signed up for one meal a year, our calendar would be full.”
Until more help comes, for the homeless, hope still remains.
“That way we get ourselves up, get our spirit back into us and get up outta here, so somebody else can have a bed … that needs it,” Lamm said.