BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — A Bastrop pastor plans to keep expanding his neighborhood of mini-shelters for homeless families once he has the funds to buy more land next to his property.
KXAN first reported on Pastor Roland Nava, of In the Streets-Hands Up High Ministry, last year when he was set to open the first three shelters, and since then he’s added five more. Nava says 25 families have come through his property, which also includes the Open Door Soup Kitchen.
Friday, The Bastrop Chamber of Commerce will present Nava with its “Man of the Year” award at its 81st annual Chamber Banquet, but the evangelist isn’t taking a break from his work.
He’s trying to raise $15,000 to buy an adjacent piece of property to build four more shelters, as well as four larger individual structures to rent out at an affordable price to help families with the transition out of homelessness.
“All people need is just a little help,” Nava said Wednesday as he showed KXAN around the newest additions.
Jennifer Banks is living in one of the new shelters, which are basically pre-fabricated sheds outfitted with electricity, air conditioning, beds, dressers, a fridge, microwave and other homey touches.
Banks has been living in the mini-shelter for three weeks with her two kids. She hung a blanket over the side of the bunk above hers, blocking her from view of the rest of the room. “This is my mama space,” she laughed, “so I can have a little bit of privacy.”
Originally from Missouri, Banks and her family ended up on Nava’s property the way a lot of people do — one bad break after another. A difficult relationship ended, and a medical condition forced Banks out of a job; the next job she got didn’t pay enough to cover rent, and she was forced into living in motels and out of her car.
“It’s tough, because you’re the provider, you know,” she said. “And you’re failing your children.”
Nava has heard a lot of stories like that; he’s also lived it. A criminal record made it impossible for him to find a job or a place to live, and he spent three years homeless in Houston. The experience led him to his ministry, and to the temporary homes he’s putting on his land.
“Even though it’s temporary,” he said, “it’s encouraging.”
He has the letters to prove it. A few of the families who have lived in the growing community left him notes about their experiences, thanking Nava for all he’s doing and encouraging future families to take adavantage of the opportunity.
“Sometimes it makes me want to cry,” he said after he read a couple of the letters, “’cause it kind of hits, you know.”
At least 11 of the families have been able to buy property after living three months rent-free. But Nava’s ministry doesn’t stop at temporary housing.
The Salvation Army sets up shop at the soup kitchen once a week to help people from all over the area apply for financial assistance to pay utility bills; workers laid tile on Wednesday in a new activity room for the YMCA to use when the group comes out to work with the children living in the shelters; he’s planning to tear down part of his fence to add a bus stop at his property for the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, or CARTS, to make it easier for people to get to the soup kitchen and other services.
All of his work gives folks like Banks a sense of security they wouldn’t have otherwise. “This way I don’t have to go from shelter to shelter to shelter to shelter,” she said.
She’s been able to connect with counseling and other resources since she started living there and hopes it’ll help her find a better job to support her kids. Meanwhile, Banks is also in touch with a group that’s working to get her into an income-based apartment.
“It reminds me that there is hope,” she said.
Any business, company or group that wants to sponsor a shelter or contribute to Nava’s land fund can contact him at email@example.com, call 512-317-7503 or go on his organization’s Facebook page.