Salvation Army Responds to Northside Community Concerns About Reopening Facilities

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After Andre Jackson was sentenced for the murder of an 11-year-old Near Northside resident, residents and officials gathered outside the now-closed shelter where Jackson had lived, voicing fears it might reopen. On Monday, the Salvation Army discussed its plans for the property, which it says will not reopen as a shelter.

The North Main Street facility, which had graffiti on its walls and a “For Sale” sign out front last week, will be partially demolished, according to Tom Forney, chairman of the group’s local advisory board.

Stella Mireles-Walters, who founded the Safe Walk Home neighborhood patrol program after the death of Josue Flores, said last week she didn’t want the facility to reopen, but if it did, his group wanted 24/7 security and a client agreement not to camp or loiter in the area or risk losing access to Salvation Army services.

Forney said the Salvation Army plans to demolish half of the approximately 60,000 square foot building, which will be replaced with community park space – complete with landscaping, benches and public art. The remaining three-story building would reopen with 24-hour security, a cafe, meeting and community spaces and space for the Northside Boys and Girls Club. There would be a kitchen preparing food for delivery to shelters in other neighborhoods, and the Salvation Army would move administrative offices there. And social workers and housing navigators would connect homeless people to much-needed resources, but only by appointment. Those attempting to fetch resources would be transported to a location that provides the resources they seek, Forney said.

Across the Houston area, the Christian organization provides a wide range of services — including resources, children’s programs, food and gifts — to more than 50,000 people a year, Forney said.

“We hear you,” he said. “We implement your concerns into your plan.”

However, he acknowledged that in the decades leading up to Flores’ murder, the establishment’s relationship with its neighbors had become less than ideal. “We lost their trust over time,” he said. “And I could only tell them: we will do everything we can to earn your trust.”

People involved in the Near Northside community reacted to the plans in different ways.

Debbie Tesar, who is a community organizer but spoke for herself, said communication with the Salvation Army has improved dramatically in the nearly 25 years she has lived in the neighborhood.

She remembers not being able to get in touch with local, regional or national representatives of the Salvation Army. Now, she says, “They’ve been much more receptive and open.”

She praised the Salvation Army’s massive investment in the now vacant space, saying the administrative offices were preferable to other potential uses for the property, such as a strip of bars.

But Mireles-Walters still felt concerned, largely because of the neighborhood’s history with the Salvation Army. In particular, she was concerned about the organization’s ability to prevent guests from camping or hanging out in the park. She also said she would feel more reassured if an organization she’s felt more supported by in the past — specifically Harris County Constable 6 — provided round-the-clock security.

Forney said the Salvation Army has met with several local officials, including people who attended Friday’s press conference outside the Salvation Army, to review plans for the facility. Members of the Salvation Army will attend community meetings at the Historic Near Northside Civic Club to be available to the public.

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