Yesterday I had the privilege of driving around downtown Houston, Texas with Earl.
Earl W. Hatcher is a big, burly chap with a full grey beard and bushy fair. I judge him to be approaching 60-years-old. Earl is the Executive Director of Houston SRO Housing Corporation.
Earl and his company develop and manage single room occupancy (SRO) apartments that house formerly homeless individuals.
As he drove our group around his world, I recognized we were riding with a person who really understands the world of homelessness. Earl is a virtual encyclopedia of information, statistics and human understanding.
His work is first-rate and downright amazing. Houston SRO Housing Corporation has developed a number of SRO sites--several right around the downtown location of Minute Maid Park, home to the Houston Astros Baseball Club. A number of the residents of Earl's properties work at the ballpark during baseball season.
We toured one site that had been an old hotel--the DeGeorge at Union Station. This project caters only to veterans. The place is wonderful. The restoration is great. Best of all, the development works as a business deal--the rents keep it operational for the residents, all of whom pay $381 monthly. Each apartment includes a bath and a kitchen area.
In the neighborhood around Earl's development I noticed upscale loft apartments, restaurants, and expensive condos, in addition to the new ballpark. Talk about mixed-use development!
I asked Earl lots of questions. Mainly though, I wanted to know if the project worked socially. Were the formerly homeless good tenants? Did they cause problems for surrounding businesses? Did they get along with their more affluent neighbors? Were they an asset or a liability to the area? Was crime a problem?
Earl answered every question with patience and clarity. In every case the answers were what I expected: the development is working very well and the residents of the DeGeorge were an important part of the downtown renewal underway. They were definitely assets to the city.
Earl is an amazing guy. Totally committed to his calling and work. Totally disgusted with what has happened in our country since 1980. Earl can see the forces that have combined to make life harder for the poor and marginalized.
Next time you're in Houston stop by the corner of Preston and LaBranch and check out the DeGeorge. It has a great view of the Astro's new home. Life seems to really work there for folks who not long ago were sleeping on the sidewalk.