'We prayed for it': Houston community grateful for Salvation Army shelter closure

HOUSTON – Community leaders came together to express their gratitude to the Salvation Army for the relocation of a men’s shelter in the Near Northside.

The Salvation Army announced Thursday it will be moving its emergency shelter resources to help with costs and improve its services, which had community members rejoicing.

"We have just received our early Christmas gift, and it has come from the Salvation Army's decision today, which is a dream come true,” said Stella Mireles-Walters, a community leader and creator of Safe Walk Home.

Mireles-Walters created the program after someone stabbed 11-year-old Josue Flores to death on his way home from school two years ago.

She and others wanted the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light location to shut down after police arrested someone from the shelter. The man was later released.

Though Flores’ killer has not been found, Mireles-Walters and other community members believe the man was staying at the shelter and followed the boy from there before killing him.

They also allege crime has increased over the years because of the shelter and have worked to get it relocated.

“When the Salvation Army went in, our crime rate went up in this neighborhood, and if you know the location of the Salvation Army, it’s right in the middle of a family neighborhood,” Mireles-Walters said. “We wanted it, we prayed for it and here it is, and we want to thank them for making this decision. It doesn’t matter what reason that they made this huge decision, but here, the residents of Northside, we receive it as a dream come true.”

Since the boy's death, the community has been fighting to get the shelter moved.

“It took a lot of advocating, partnering in order to make something like this happen.” said Mireles-Walters. “It’s a David and Goliath story. We didn’t think that it was possible, but it was our dream for this facility to be closed or to be used for other clients, like women and children. This is an example of what a community can do when everyone is working for the same cause.”

Several other community leaders spoke about how happy they were the facility is moving, mentioning tarps at a nearby elementary school used to shield children from happenings on the street.

“If you look at (the school), you’ll see that there are blue tarps … Those are not for aesthetic reasons,” she said. “Those were put there to shield the children from having to see sexual acts on the street, drugs being transported from one person to another, people passed out on the street and men urinating in public.”

While the community is happy with the change, people who are staying at the center are struggling to come to terms with the announcement.

"I know that it is a safe place for me,” said Rochelle Jamison, a resident at the shelter. “I really have done some things. I haven’t had a job in 15 years. I stayed, my house was in the county and I really, really benefited from being here. You have to pay a certain amount every week to stay there, and fortunately, I have a job. But I’m still not at the point I can get my own place and be independent yet.”

Another resident of the shelter, Allen Federick, said the announcement came as kind of a surprise.

“We didn’t know if it was true or not. We just heard the rumors, so, and we didn’t know they were moving anywhere,” Federick said. “I already had plans to move into an apartment. I’m not from out here. Do you know they looked out for me? You know what I’m saying … (others are) going probably either go to the other shelter, but they’ll probably be back on the streets.”

The Salvation Army said the reason for the consolidation has to do with reducing costs, improving services and having better practices to offer care for its vulnerable clients.

VIDEO: Community leaders speak about decision to close shelter

Here is a statement from the Salvation Army:

"Salvation Army Houston is consolidating its emergency shelter resources to open the Center of Hope in downtown Houston on January 1, 2019. This is part of Salvation Army's effort to reduce costs, improve services and better align with industry best practices so we can provide the best possible care for our vulnerable clients. Formerly Sally’s House, Center of Hope will house Salvation Army Houston’s emergency shelter for men, including specialized programs for veterans and those seeking employment as a solution to their homelessness. The shelter for women will transition to Salvation Army Houston’s Family Residence. Salvation Army Houston is committed to meeting immediate needs without discrimination for children, youth, families, veterans, the homeless, the elderly and more throughout the Houston community. - Major Kent Davis, Houston area commander."

According to the Salvation Army Houston, the shelter will be relocating to the Center of Hope in downtown, which was formerly the location of the Sally’s House emergency center.

The shelter will provide the same number of beds as the Harbor Light location, along with specialized programs for veterans and people looking for employment as a solution to their homelessness, the Salvation Army Houston said.

The relocation will take place in Jan. 1, 2019.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that community leaders are holding Friday's news conference and not the Salvation Army.

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