Wendy Marcum became homeless during a divorce. She was evicted from the rental house she’d lived in with her younger son and former husband. Losing her home and her marriage led to a debilitating depression. She couldn’t even muster the energy to take a proper shower. Eventually, she got psychiatric care and medication. But she struggled to find a way out of homelessness.
Through the shelter grapevine, she heard about a program in Houston through which people living on the streets or in shelters were getting apartments of their own.
One day last July, she went to The Beacon, a shelter in downtown Houston, to be considered for this “rapid rehousing.”
It was the first step in a long, often bewildering process.
When it was her turn to be evaluated, Ms. Marcum entered a cramped room and sat opposite Joshua Davis, a shelter employee. He asked her scripted questions.
“Where did you sleep last night?”
“Have you been homeless before?”
“Do you have a serious physical health condition that requires frequent medical care?”
“Do you have income?”
Each of Ms. Marcum’s answers was given a number based on a scoring system meant to prioritize people with the greatest needs. But the disabilities, addictions, and physical and mental health issues that count the most are often the ones people try to hide in other contexts.
Ms. Marcum did not tell Mr. Davis about her depression or the medications she was taking. She seemed eager to emphasize her strengths, like her desire to find a job.
Ms. Marcum told Mr. Davis she was staying at a shelter but she could only stay there two more weeks, per the shelter’s policy, so she would soon have to move on. It was a familiar shuffle, but she was worried.
A shelter bed was never guaranteed.
“I’m 56 years old and 5-foot-nothing,” she told Mr. Davis. “It scares me to death to be on the street.”
Ms. Marcum’s score on the assessment was too low for her to qualify for housing assistance.
She did, however, …….