The Secret Homeless Caves Under Downtown

THE SECRET HOMELESS CAVES UNDER DOWNTOWN Officers on HPD’s Homeless Outreach Team show teevee reporter Robert Arnold a secret den favored by a portion of Downtown’s homeless population — tucked under the Louisiana St. bridge over Buffalo Bayou. Dubbed “the caves,” the not-tall-enough-to-stand-in space snakes along the bridge, further back than Arnold’s flashlight can shine. Layers of occupied and unoccupied sleeping bags, clothing, and trash cover the surface, and Arnold describes the scent as “thick and unrelenting.” Arnold’s report doesn’t specify how many people are living in the warren-like hideaway, but from the pictures he shows, it’s easy to imagine dozens. “We’ve had whole families in here,” explains police sergeant Stephen Wick. [Click2Houston]

40 Comment

  • It is very scary, how many of us are one paycheck away from this.

  • sad is right…a city so rich and so many poor….my heart hurts!!!

  • The sad part is the city is awash in available jobs as all level and competencies…these people can be working. They choose not to…

    I’m not sad because they are poor. Many poor people work and work hard. I’m sad that they don’t contribute to society. I could care less about their living conditions. It’s a choice they made.

  • Sure, kjb434, there are hundreds of employers just waiting to employ the homeless guy suffering from schizophrenia and dementia who slept in filth under a bridge last night. If only he had the can-do American spirit and wanted to be a productive worker, instead of just being too lazy to work.

  • @ kjb434: Mental illness is not a choice, and that’s really the driving force behind homelessness.

  • So you two are telling me that every homeless person wandering downtown is mentally ill?

    I understand some have mental issues and can’t work or hold a job. My comments obviously don’t direct themselves to those persons. There are other entities that are willing to help in those instances. I’m hard pressed to think all the homeless in downtown are mentally handicapped.

  • I agree with kjb434, I don’t believe the majority of homeless of mentally impaired or ill. They might be addicts, but being an addict is a choice…not to stay an addict but it was a choice to use drugs/alcohol in the beginning. I have a hard time being sympathetic for the majority of the homeless, because like in the video, most choose not to want any help. None of the homeless in the video wanted to go the shelter and shower and get cleaned up. Yeah, maybe no one would hire someone who smells – but the shelters will let you come in and shower and give you clean clothes and a meal, if you really wanted to find a job you could do this daily. I think the sad fact is most just don’t want to do that, they’d rather stay in their current situation.

  • @kbj

    You should spend a day volunteering at project search or another non-profit in Houston, it will open your eyes and mind.

  • I’m a strong proponent of personal responsibility, but this argument of “They would have jobs if they weren’t lazy” smacks of “the peasants are starving? Let them eat cake.”. Regardless of how they got in the situation they are, it IS where they are, and the question is not whether they deserve to be there, but how to get them into a more stable situation. It’s not just for their sake, it’s for ours, in a direct and tangible sense. Scoffing at them or offering generic Horatio Alger-esque advice is a way of distancing one’s self form the complexities of the problem and demonstrates a startling lack of comprehension, let alone humanity. Yes these people have personal responsibility to answer to. But, to mix saying, be careful casting those stones with planks in your eye.

  • Yeah, kbj, like Romney said, why don’t they just borrow money from their parents to start a business? I wish your ridiculous comments were more satire and less ignorance. I know far too many well-educated, well-dressed, experienced professionals who have been out of work for months – despite the city being “awash in available jobs”. Your suggestion that someone who has been reduced to living in filth under a bridge can just strut on in to legions of employers and get hired is laughable. Getting a shower and fresh clothes won’t do it either. Try getting a real job without an address or phone number. People who think like you are the main reason our country continues to fail miserably at dealing with these problems.

  • And don’t the shelters make folk listen to some Jesus talk in order to partake of the “free” grub?

  • Jon,

    I was one of those professionals out of a job for 8 months…now I work in North Dakota while I live in Houston. The company is a Houston company, but many professionals just turn the job away when offered because they don’t want to go to work up north and commute back to Texas on rotation. There are jobs being advertised by Houston companies for workers at all skill level from admin assistant, to engineers, field workers, etc. You just have to be willing to commute to the north. So yes, I know what it’s like to wonder how I’m going to pay for my house. I wasn’t far away from having to skip a mortgage payment, then I found this position.

    Also, I don’t think that ALL these people are lazy, but I do have a problem when help is turned away. Turning away help is the point at which I start to care less about a homeless person. And there hasn’t been a lack of help offered in this city.

    Also, I have worked in soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New Orleans on a rotation as part of my Catholic schooling, but assuming I’m a horrible person is much easier instead of thinking a thought through.

  • @ kjb: I was a team leader for the homeless count of downtown during the 2010 Census (ironically, at a time that if they hadn’t hired me, I couldn’t have made the next month’s $325 rent). I’d tell you stories, but that would be imprudent for legal reasons; suffice it to say that what I observed at soup kitchens was markedly different from what I observed at night under the freeways and bridges. Those capable of receiving help were far more likely to seek it out or accept it. Those that were beyond assistance are the ones that made for the most disturbing late-night encounters. It’s a sad reality, impossible to completely resolve short of compulsory mass-institutionalization.

    @ Sam W: Mental illness can be said to occur when a person engages in maladaptive behavior. Whether we’re discussing substance abuse or one of dozens of disorders, it’s a severe and profound inability to overcome oneself—even when the means are present–that is the underlying cause of long-term unassisted homelessness.

  • kbj, would you please check your PMs on HAIF? I’ve got an unrelated question to ask of you. Thanks.

  • I’ll check TheNiche. I haven’t commented on HAIF in years.

  • I’m a big believer in personal responsibility too, but if you don’t realize that things can go terribly wrong in someone’s life despite their best efforts, you are way too smug about your own privilege. (And yes, I recognize the advantages I had – like good public education and social infrastructure and whatnot – as privileges that not everybody has.)

    And there’s also the basic lack of human empathy in some of these comments.

  • For a city “awash in jobs” I’ve had a terrible time making a living wage (with a college degree, no less) for the last five, yes five, years. I don’t eat out much, I don’t spend money on anything but the essentials. I’m fed up with hearing about how Houston is great for job seekers – apparently only if you’re an engineer or know someone in the oil industry…

  • What’s that college degree in? Do you assume college degree equals good pay and a job? Good luck with that.

  • It’s a common misconception that all college degrees are equal. That’s simply not true. Schools do students a great disservice by not counseling them to major in a numerate discipline, rather than one of the “soft” areas, like marketing or sociology. Those might be suitable for a graduate degree, built on a foundation of hard math, science, or accounting, but not an undergraduate degree.

  • My wife is a recruiter. She has a hard time finding people that will show up. Last week one employee didn’t show up one day. His excuse was that he overslept and had some errands to run. He said he’d be in tomorrow. She told him not to bother. People Like that are just not capable of living in our society, they are just too dumb. I guess we’re just going to have to do everything for them.

  • Whatever the case, education is not the issue here. The people that live under this bridge are not employable. If they were even a little bit more socially capable, they’d have likely been able to fall back on some sort of social support network or at least make their homelessness more discrete and tolerable (for instance by couch-surfing, living out of cars, or by at least improvising better shelter in better locations). But they’ve burned their bridges to society and they lack the means to help themselves. They are severely ill.

  • From John (another one):

    I’m a big believer in personal responsibility too, but if you don’t realize that things can go terribly wrong in someone’s life despite their best efforts, you are way too smug about your own privilege. (And yes, I recognize the advantages I had – like good public education and social infrastructure and whatnot – as privileges that not everybody has.)

    And there’s also the basic lack of human empathy in some of these comments.


    “Out of sight, out of mind.” This is all just more “blame the victim.” Quite a few people get laid off, can’t find another job, and yes, some people are “over-qualified” and many employers will not hire someone “while they look for something better,” and they end up being evicted and many things can happen in what for many is a sudden downward spiral. As for the mental illness that is prevalent, well, ending up homeless for many is enough to cause the mental illness. The comments here are just pathetic. But reflective of the Ayn Rands among us.

  • My point was simpler – simply that one can believe that someone has made some bad choices or failed to take advantages of things that might help them, and still care about them and feel empathy. That’s called “being human.”

  • This would not be allowed on the San Antonio River…..

  • Some really take their good fortune for granted. Must have no ability to see past their own inherent greed and lack of empathy for anyone beyond themselves.

  • I don’t think that greed has anything to do with people that have unrealistic expectations of the long-term homeless population. It’s more likely just the consequence of social conditioning and asymmetric life experiences.

    OTOH, I characterize the problem as a social blight and attribute my interest, concern, and thought toward it primarily because the long-term homeless are not engaging in society as consumers. They are a dead weight. I cannot sell them things, and the people that give them things are made less able to afford to buy my things.

    Homelessness is a problem because it interferes with the fulfillment of my greed.

  • This is why the homeless problem seems to have ballooned over the past 40 years:

    If a mentally ill person is not a threat to the community they cannot be involuntarily committed. As long as we have mentally ill people who don’t want treatment we will see them on our streets. I don’t know what the answer is.

  • When I get adventurous, instead of heading west toward Buffalo Bayou Park on my lunch run, I occassionally run under the Louisiana bridge. It smells like pee and guano. You can see the Donnelan crypt on this route. That’s nice.

  • For all who think/assume the homeless are choosing that life just remember:
    1) Even with a relatively simple thing like a computer choices are made from menus; our menus as complex human beings are tucked away in our subconscious, where they were created as children before we even knew we had a subconscious.
    2) seriously, anyone who wasn’t in severe pain and/or accustomed to severe pain would be outta there in a heart beat & contributing to society.
    3) for now the homeless contribute to society in reminding us either of our compassion and empathy or our hardass ignorance.
    4) they are working harder than the rest of us ever will. there but for the grace of luck go you and I; We with better lives have the privilege of contributing & belonging while we work hard.
    5) most of them were in foster care, abuse victims, vets &/or have mental health issues. Too bad we pay such low taxes as a country and no TX state taxes. Our streets are outpatient wards & filled with lost children while mammoth churches remain empty and unused most days as do for lease strip malls.

  • @ Moriah: I’d have to disagree that they are working harder than I am. I’m not saying that panhandling is a cush job or anything, but enduring discomfort is not the same thing as working hard. Also, I couldn’t find any children that were homeless. I found a few teenage males, but they seemed less helpless than what the term ‘children’ implies. For that matter, they seemed less helpless than the general population of homeless people.

    I don’t think that taxation is the solution (and you’re wrong that we pay no state taxes). Frankly, I don’t think that there is a solution. It’s not even so much about a lack of shelter so much as it is about the lack of social workers willing to tackle the problem. If people feel bad about it, they should volunteer to help or contribute to worthy charities.

  • No state income tax here in HOU.

    If you think it isn’t hard work trying to survive on the streets you should try it for a month. Ditto if you think enduring severe discomfort is not hard work.

    And your solution?

  • Lou,
    Regan cut taxes and ‘saved’ lots of money making our streets an outpatient ward.
    Now, rather than the economy of scale that we afford Walmart and other large corporations, our government just eeeks by and we individuals have the privilege and expense of paying for our own security, mental health,medical, filtering our water, transportation, education, oversight and regulation of pollutants…etc etc etc

  • moriah has been drinking a little too much Kool-Aid…put it down and live in reality.

  • You tell em Matt Mystery, JTM, John (another one), cory

    @ Niche..I didn’t say they were children only that they have been in foster ‘care’..they are veterans of Humanity’s war with itself. And that is if they were even lucky enough to be taken from abusive situations at all. Children who lived in foster care have a higher incidence of PTSD (likely head trama too) than even our vets do. Google Casey Foundation study. Athletes are killing themselves from head trauma and they have helmets!
    Also in poor neighborhoods around Houston I see lots of ‘lost’ children with no where to swim, play basketball, learn crafts etc. and for some of them the tipping point will send them under the bridges 10, 15 or 30 years from now

  • TheNiche
    It’s a sad reality, impossible to completely resolve short of compulsory mass-institutionalization.

    Complete resolution is not a viable goal for much of anything. Mitigation and caring for those who ‘lack the means to help themselves’ can certainly be addressed by some enforced assistance. We all must trust in others at some point and that is the burden that being severely mentally ill (which you describe very accurately as a problem) carries rather than living under the bridges.

  • Moriah:

    Reagan didn’t put anyone on the street. The Supreme Court did that when they ruled that mentally ill people cannot be held in institutions against their will. Short of reversing that ruling, there is little we can do to resolve the hard core homeless issue.

  • @ Moriah: I have no solution. There isn’t one that is legal. It’s just sad, and that’s all.

    And regarding head trauma, I’m against that too. It’d probably reduce the incidence of leftist extremists that have gotten where they can’t even tell the difference between sources and uses of government revenue.

  • Reading through these posts its amazing how much ignorance there is about the business side of helping the needy and how much BS is spewed by service-providers to stay in business helping to keep their clients homeless. I owned one of those “transitional” housing places that served hundreds of dually-diagnosed men in the mid-2000s, and closed it when I realized how much of a conman I’d have to become to keep it open. Its a racket and the folks running the 501(c)(3)s know it. And the government is helping to pay for it, but the tax-payers get stuck with the bill.

  • @Kgb or krb first off i would like to say thank you very much for your comment and i too feel the same way until it happend to me and right now im not homeless any more thanks to the love of my wife and to get at you about how you feel you really need to take this time out to thank god that you are alive i have seen people eat out of trash and you have the autdacity to even thino you are above the homeless people im gone tell you like this MOTHERFUCKA GET A GRIP ON LIFE TAKE YOUR ASS DOWN AND VOLENTEER AT SEARCH ON 2505 FANNIN AND GET YOU SOME COUNCIL

  • Every one talks about the homeless people with mental illness and that is in fact a large part of them. There are also a lot of convicted felons in the homeless population. Men and women who have been released from prison only to find out they are all but un employable. These are the ones we should be most worried about. Pick up any help wanted paper or get on line and you will see that almost every add for any position says must pass background check. It doesn’t matter if your applying for a position as a bank teller or a dishwasher. You must pass a background check. So, imagine you just got out of prison for burglary. Youve completed evey class they have on gaining employment, remaining clean and sober. You’ve gotten your GED. You have done everything you can to straighten your life out. you get out grab a paper and find out you have to pass a background check to get a job. You put in application after application only to be turned down time after time. So you try lying on the applications and saying your not a felon but the computer catches that every time. Thanks to the web nobody can escape their past now. Eventually the money you had in your pocket when you were released runs out. Thais usually less than $100. So what do you do? Go sleep under the bridge or go back to climbing through peoples windows? We need to work on fixing this part of the homeless problem as it is by far the most dangerous. About 8 years ago the state of Missouri released a man named Robert Childers, who had served over 30 years for shooting two police officers in St. Louis. Within two months he was arrested and returned to prison for purse snatching. when interviewed he was asked why he had done something so stupid he said he couldn’t get work. I might also add that Childers had a prior conviction for rape. So this could of been much much worse. We need to make sure that people released from prison do not end up in a situation of homelessness. For our safety as well as theirs.