Change Font Size:   A A A

May 04, 2018 | Carol E. Barnwell

1960 Hope Center Closes Gap for Homeless in North Houston

The 1960 Hope Center

The 1960 Hope Center, a ministry for the homeless founded in August 2016 by St. Dunstan’s, Houston, now has more than 30 area churches that help support the day center. It is one of the only agencies serving homeless men and women in the area.

“Forty people were living in the woods across the street from the church and we didn’t even know it,” said Debbie Johnson, a member of St. Dunstan’s, president of the Center’s Board of Directors and one of the founders of Hope Center. “Father Rob (Price) found a man charging his phone at an outside outlet at the church and asked where he lived. ‘In the woods,’ the man said, pointing to the trees next to the church. Ultimately, we found that there are more than 1000 homeless people in our part of the county,” Johnson said.    

While the day center has only two paid staff—the executive director and a security guard at the front door—more than 100 volunteers help provide a hot lunch and resources to nearly 750 guests a month. Hope Center is open Monday through Friday, 9-3 and during inclement weather.

“We barely found this place,” Johnson said. “Although many people want to help, there is a ‘Not in my neighborhood’ mentality,” Johnson said.  The Center is currently raising funds to move to a larger space to meet growing needs.

While Hope Center offers job counseling, help with resumes and access to a computer for those seeking work, successful outcomes are not always achieved. The stories are as varied as the people who walk through the door for a hot lunch or a weekly shower.

Bob Butler, a former Baptist minister, is executive director of the 1960 Hope Center.

According to Bob Butler, Hope Center’s executive director, some homeless people are not able to hold down a job because of mental issues. Others are simply working poor struggling to stay afloat on minimum-wage jobs.

“For addicts, success just may be getting into a detox program. For a widow from South Korea, success was help negotiating governmental agencies to get the necessary documents to access her husband’s death benefits,” Butler said.

“We had a guy come in yesterday who said he got a job in Washington. He said he would have starved without us and brought some of his clothes in to donate to others,” Butler added.

As encampments in Downtown Houston are closed, people move to the county, growing the need for homeless ministry farther and farther from the city’s center, Butler explained. Also, as hotel vouchers for Harvey survivors run out the homeless population swells. People with children are sent to Northwest Assistance Ministry. Hope Center is a member of Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless.

This winter, Carolyn died in the parking lot from a stroke brought on by exposure. Hope Center hosted her memorial service. But there are 150 other men and women who have managed, in the last year, to get a job and an apartment, with Hope Center’s help.

Hope Center’s front door opens onto a large room in the strip center behind Luby’s in NW Houston. Computers line one wall and the lunch tables are decorated with pots of colorful flowers. Donations are stacked in the halls and spill out of the few small office spaces. A woman stands at the end of the hall placing her clothes into the only washing machine adjacent to the one shower available at Hope Center. Clearly, there is a need for more space but, according to Johnson, there is no easy remedy.

Volunteers’ stories are as unique as the guests. A professor from Vanderbilt helped rewire and install new dry wall at the Center. Others offer GED preparation, stress and anger management skill classes, help with resumes and job preparation. A former finance professor from Ole Miss teaches money management. Two psycho therapists, two retired social workers and a retired engineer do case management. Partner churches bring in cooked food for lunch since there is no kitchen on the premises.

“We have 100 volunteers and could use more,” said Hope Center’s executive director, Bob Butler. Butler, formerly a Baptist minister, worked at St. Dunstan’s for 10 years doing pastoral care and Christian formation. 

A hot lunch is a feature of the 1960 Hope Center, a day center for the homeless north of Houston, as volunteers help with case work.

 Both Johnson and Butler came to this particular ministry because of their previous experience with a homeless person. For Johnson, it was a woman, a former NASA scientist who had lost her job and family to alcoholism, who found a chance at new life working for Johnson’s husband’s company. “She was the best worker we ever had,” Johnson said. “She just needed a second chance at the right time.”

For Butler, it was the homeless man who asked to buy a travel trailer he had for sale. “He told me he could only pay so much a month from his $700, but he never missed a payment, and he was able to find a job and maintain a living once he had a place he could afford to live.”

“There is no way this should be working. God is in this place,” she said. Johnson and Butler hope the $1.5M they need to move to larger quarters will come soon.

The 1960 Hope Center benefits from the sustained support of St. Dunstan’s and, as Johnson points out, “Parishioners have given until it hurts.” But that’s still not enough to meet the need for multiple washer/dryer connections and shower facilities, a clinic and a kitchen. Partner churches help financially, with meals and volunteers and the Hope Center is a featured outreach for Diocesan Episcopal Church Women for the next two years.

“There are many reasons people are homeless, we just want to treat everyone with dignity,” Johnson said. Learn more at: