Family transfer center to shelter up to 500 migrants at a time in Houston

HOUSTON – The new family transfer center in north Houston will be managed and staffed by volunteers from the area without government help, officials said. The center can house up to 500 migrants at a time.

The facility on Air Center Boulevard, owned by the National Association of Christian Christians, was used earlier this year as a migrant center for unaccompanied migrant girls.

Federal agencies managed and funded the center back then and shut it down abruptly in April.

“If you were to ask me at this point what the difference is, it’s private, faith-based organizations trying to make a difference,” said NACC attorney Nick Panarella. “That’s different than a bureaucracy.”

The center now accepts only migrant families and is managed and staffed by volunteers, with the help of several churches and nonprofits, led by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On Monday, the church invited the media to tour the facility and talk to volunteers and migrants.

“This is a community-based effort and these are just families seeking a better life,” said Elder Villarreal, a senior leader in The Church assigned to direct the center.

“It’s not a detention center,” he added. “People are free to come and go as they please.”

Migrants are bused to the facility from the border and offered showers, new clothes, food, toiletries and technology to communicate with family and friends in the states.

“Anybody can volunteer,” said Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds, which is helping coordinate the volunteer effort. “You go to volunteerhouston.org to sign up, and you go through a background check.”

“We could use at least a hundred volunteers every day to run this facility,” he added. “We’re probably also going to have about a hundred different Houston area church congregations to support this center.”

“It took us five months to get to the United States,” said Joe Bilicon from Haiti while sitting on a cot at the facility alongside his wife and 10-month-old daughter.

It took the Iselca family three months to walk and bus to the U.S.-Mexico border from Brazil.

“I want to work,” Nabeshky said sitting at a table in the facility with her husband and two daughters. “There’s nothing in Brazil where we’re from.”

Most migrants are expected to stay at the facility for less than 24 hours on their way to stay with family and friends in other cities and states.

The center is expected to operate for at least six months, church officials said.

Catholic Charities, the National Association of Christian Churches, YMCA International Services, Texas Adventist Community Services, Houston Responds and the Houston Food Bank are also supporting the facility.