Youth focus of ministry

When the Rev. G. Todd Williams got to his church Friday morning, there were 12 youths sitting on the front step.

BY HEATHER MOYER | HOUSTON, Texas | September 12, 2005

When the Rev. G. Todd Williams got to his church Friday morning, there were 12 youths sitting on the front step.

That there were some youths on the church's front step was not so unusual for a church with a mission to serve the homeless youth population in Houston. What was atypical Friday morning was how many youths were there.

"We're getting a lot of new faces now," said Williams, pastor of New Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "And that's because of Hurricane Katrina."

With the influx of Katrina survivors to Houston, Williams said it makes sense that many homeless youths are pouring into the city as well. Many found a way out of New Orleans, but are now stuck in a new city. So Williams and his church went to work for a population he said would be especially prone to "falling through the cracks" in the disaster recovery process.

They are helping of the kids find family members, a process that does not often have a happy ending. Williams said many of the homeless kids have not seen their families in years. Some ran away, others were kicked out. For some, a call to their parents does not always mean the kid is welcome home. "Some parents say, 'that's nice, you keep them,'" explained Williams. "That's a hard message to give to a kid who's been through hell."

Every homeless youth has a story, he said, and most are just unbelievable. For one young woman who came to his door, the situation was grim. Williams said she had been home in New Orleans with her mom just before Katrina hit. She saw her mother leave the house to go check on a neighbor - and then she never saw her again. When the water started rising into the home, the young woman made her way to the Superdome. She finally arrived in Houston and came to Williams' doorstep.

"She had no ID or any details," he said. "We finally tracked down an aunt of hers in Shreveport and paid for a bus ticket to get her there. At our last check, they had still not heard from her mother."

Williams also works as a chaplain at a local hospital. He spoke to one young man there who had been in a New Orleans hospital. "He said a hospital worker came to him last week, gave him his medical records, and said, 'good luck.' And he was still able to make it to Houston."

Williams added that many of the young people worked in the New Orleans sex industry, and now that they are in an entirely new city, they are even more vulnerable to predators.

"The thing that scares is that these kids are easy prey, I feel they'll get into the lifestyle they don't need to be in," he said.

Another worry of Williams and the New Convenant members is just what will happen to all the survivors three or four months from now who are being provided with only temporary housing. "If (Houston) and everyone are not careful, in several months we might have a whole city on our streets," he said. "And then it will be winter, and Houston does get cold."

The best way for people to help New Covenant and their homeless youth mission is through funding, which helps the church get the kids into school. "Our focus has always been education, it's key," said Williams. "The best way to get a kid off the street is to put him in college."

The congregation has eight of their former homeless youth now in college and another 12 in G.E.D. programs - which will allow the city's community college to let them in for free. Funding also helps the congregation provide job training and job finding.

The four other Disciples of Christ churches in Houston help support New Convenant's mission via funding, volunteers, and supplies like hygiene products. Williams added that congregations from across the country have also been calling since Katrina to offer assistance. That help is crucial to what he calls a lesser known ministry.

"There's not a whole lot of people doing this ministry," added Williams. "We have 3,100 youth on the streets each night in Houston, but there are only 120 beds available to them. This mission has become our calling."

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