By Lindsay Peyton – Photos by Shannon Martin
When 19-year old Shawn Davies was kicked out of foster care last fall, he had nowhere to turn. Determined to still make it to school, he camped outside, often at the park near campus. “When I asked my family for help, they weren’t around,” he said.
When Davies’ principal discovered his situation, she paid for his hotel room for two weeks – until Houston reVision could take over. The faith-based non-profit, founded in 2011 at St. Luke’s UMC Gethemene campus, provides mentors, case managers and community support for the most disconnected youth. The organization serves refugees, members of the juvenile detention system and those experiencing homelessness.
Charles Rotramel, Houston reVision’s CEO, explained that more and more of the organization’s resources are dedicated to youth who have lost their homes. “We started seeing more unstably housed youth before COVID,” he said. “They were couch-surfing, staying with friends, trying to find extended relatives.”
The trend subsided during the pandemic. Rotramel believes that more families were receiving the aid they needed. Then, the eviction moratorium ended.
“We saw a tidal wave of homeless youth,” Rotramel said. “An absolute tidal wave.” He explained that reVision was anticipating six youths each month. Instead, they have received 45 referrals in 45 days, usually from homeless liaisons and wraparound specialists from schools or juvenile probation officers.
And the demand is not slowing down. “We really are overwhelmed,” Rotramel said. “This is so expensive to deal with.”
The strategy involves either finding shelter at Covenant House or paying for extended stay hotels. “Then, we have to look for permanent housing,” Rotramel said. “We have some funding to rent apartments, but finding landlords to accept teens is difficult, especially in a tough housing market.”
Houston reVision is in desperate need of funding to keep up with the demand, which Rotramel said is a whole other challenge. “This is an invisible problem,” he said. “These kids don’t sleep outside. They’re not public. They’re not creating a criminal justice problem. So no one is interested.”
Because the youth are not typical of the homeless population, they require more case management and intervention, Rotramel explained. “They’ve never lived on the streets,” he said. “They haven’t lived as a homeless person or received services before.”
Usually, the young adults have either been forced out of their parents’ homes or foster care. They may be exiting the criminal justice system and have no resources. In some cases, their parents have moved out of state without them.
Rotramel explained that most of the time, these youths do not have the paperwork needed for employment – like birth certificates and social security cards. They do not have access to their homes to find the documents.
“This is a much bigger problem that anyone could have anticipated,” he said. “The services just don’t exist. And there aren’t places for these kids to go.”
Carlos Hernandez serves as a “credible messenger” for Houston reVision. Rotramel met him at age 15 in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center. “He ended up serving seven years in prison,” Rotramel said. “He got out in May and has joined our staff full-time.”
Now, Hernandez provides case management and services to other young people. “He’s very effective at communicating with them,” Rotramel said.
Hernandez remembers the first time he met Rotramel. “He came to ask me if I wanted a mentor,” Hernandez said. “I was interested.”
Rotramel would return several times, while Hernandez was incarcerated. “He was trying to help me get resources,” Hernandez said.
At a time when Hernandez’s family was not around to help, Rotramel was a steady presence. “I was really kind of by myself,” Hernandez recalled. “Charles was the only person I could talk to. He was always sure to answer the phone. He started sending me books, and I was passing my time reading.”
While in prison, Hernandez earned a GED – and started to cut hair. Now that he is released, he has enrolled in barber school and dreams of one day opening his own shop.
In the meantime, he enjoys working at Houston reVision. “I had always wanted to help people,” he said. “I can see myself doing this for a while.”
As a credible messenger for reVision, Hernandez manages a caseload of about 22 youth. “I’m someone who has been there, done that, who is trying to make a change,” he said. “I can speak to them so they don’t have to go through what I did.”
He tells them, “I’m here for you. I’m here to support you regardless.”
Most of the youth Hernandez helps are in the criminal system. “I try to open their minds up to look at things differently,” he said.
Hernandez also guides them to the resources available at Houston reVision. “This program is beneficial,” he said. “I am proof that you can change.”
He continued, “When I was 14, this program had just started. And I regret not sticking with them at that age. Charles is the one person I can honestly say stuck with me. That’s what made me realize that people out here have good hearts.”
Hernandez also met with Davies at the beginning, when Houston reVision first found him a hotel around December. “We started texting, and I’d take him out to eat,” Hernandez said. “Now he’s about to graduate. We got him a job. Things are going great for him.”
Davies said that Hernandez has aided him by listening and sending inspiring messages. “Carlos has been the best help I could have asked for,” Davies said. “He’s one of those people I could relate to. We’re not in the same situation, but it’s similar. And it’s easy to talk to him.”
Houston reVision has also connected Davies with food, clothes and other services like doctor’s appointments. For instance, Davies needed glasses to read.
“I’m happy for all the help that I’ve been receiving,” he said. “It’s definitely inspired me to do better and to keep pushing myself past my limits.”