On the edge of Downtown Houston, there’s a tiny village that feels like another planet. For some people, it feels like purgatory. For others, it’s hell. And for a few, it’s answering a higher calling to help their fellow man.
About 10,400 people now call Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, home. Hundreds of others are just here to help, giving what they can to make this place feel a little less like a giant concrete coliseum and more like a dorm. When we first arrived, there were only beds for 5,000 people, but Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the city that no one would be turned away as long as they follow the rules. First, no guns. Second, no alcohol. And finally, obey the requests of law enforcement.
At the main entrance, there’s police and chaos and cameras everywhere. Carts filled with everything from medical supplies to dog food to children’s toys and toiletries roll in. And there are so many people. Some are wet and cold, looking lost and scared. Others look relieved. And most look confused. It’s overwhelming and little bit baffling, even for volunteers just looking to offer assistance.
No one stands at the entrance very long without hearing a booming voice from over the loudspeaker. The words may come in English or Spanish, but pretty quickly people get the message. Get in, register your family, and prepare to put your life on pause.