Harris County-area judge's efforts to offer hope, resources, amid growing number of evictions
HOUSTON - On any given day hundreds of people face eviction in Harris County and are stuck facing homelessness and trying to figure out what to do next.
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Once a week area, Houston-area judges hold an eviction docket, hearing cases of people behind on their rent, and most will be told they have to leave their homes.
Judge Wanda Adams may not be able to keep them from being evicted this time, but she’s offering resources with the hope that they will never be put in this position again.
"I'm 66 years old. I'm stressed out. My hair is falling out," cries Sandra who's disabled, on social security, and she's being evicted.
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Sandra sobbed as she went before the judge. Ironically, she was being comforted by the landlord who was evicting her, even as the judge held her face in her hands, choking back tears.
Sandra, like most tenants being evicted, has no idea what she’ll do now.
"I don’t know what to do. I’m confused. I don’t know what to do," Sandra said to Precinct 7, Place 1 Justice of the Peace Wanda Adams as Sandra started to cry. Judge Adams consoled her saying, "Don’t cry because..." and Judge Adams again placed her face in her hands.
"I’ve cried many times," explains Judge Adams. "I’ve had to leave the bench and stop court and go to the back and cry, especially with my seniors."
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"I’m scared. I’m really scared. I don’t know what I’m going to do," Sandra told me. "I might end up back on the streets, homeless again."
Because so many people are in this position Judge Adams now has, just outside her courtroom, resources for things like helping evicted tenants further their education, and find housing as well as jobs.
"Workforce Solutions is set up," Judge Adams explains. "We partner with Change Happens. They have a one-day fork lifting training course. If they go to that training, they get a job referral the next day. We’re partnering with the seafarer's union at the Port of Houston Authority where they go to school for six months to a year for an apprenticeship program."
"My ceiling in my bathroom is falling apart. It leaks in my kitchen," Sandra adds, bringing up another point: many renters end up evicted because they’re unaware they still have to pay rent even if their home needs serious attention and repairs.
"We have pest problems, mice, cockroaches, sewage," explains Janishia who was in court facing eviction. "There’s mold, green and black."
"We've gone a whole year without a stove. Had to fix the tub. Going to other people’s houses to bathe with our small children and a sickly child," explains another renter who was facing eviction.
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For those needing legal advice, Judge Adams also has lawyers from the University of Houston onsite. They even represent tenants on the spot for free. Today one attorney kept a couple from being evicted.
"He helped a lot. He showed us things we didn’t even know. We're not being evicted now. We have one week to move out, but it isn't eviction, and it won't go on our credit," the woman explains.
"We want to make sure we give them real-time help, not just give them a sheet and say, ‘hey go call this number,' the help is right here," says Judge Adams.
She calls it the Beyond the Bench, Hope After Eviction Resource and Counseling Program, offering hope and potential options even for those who believe they have none.
"What will I do now? Just pray," says Sandra. "That’s all I can do is pray."
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Judge Adams says the number of evictions is already growing. She expects that number to climb even higher after the Rental Assistance program ends on July 1, 2023.