Understanding Houston: 'It's like I can't survive,' temporarily-homeless Houstonian says


This is a part of a series connected to our partnership with the Greater Houston Community Foundation's regional project Understanding Houston. This story, and others, also appears on the Understanding Houston website. 

Sharon Johnson

Portrait of Sharon Johnson. Photo by: Heather Leighton

This is a part of a series connected to our partnership with the Greater Houston Community Foundation's regional project Understanding Houston. This story, and others, also appears on the Understanding Houston website.

There are 3,938 homeless men, women and children in the Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend counties, combined, according to the 2019 homeless count by the Coalition for the Homeless. And as of now, Houston-native Sharon Johnson is one of them.

Johnson, 57, was born and raised in Houston and grew up in the Westbury area. As an adult, she continued to live in Houston, but moved often in order to find affordable, safe housing. As a graphic and website designer, Johnson was able to “make it work for her and her family.”

Though, in the fall of 2018, Johnson wasn’t paid for three months by her primary client. After depleting her savings, she was served eviction papers in December. By January 1, 2019, Johnson was homeless.

“I used to be one of the people that went to the food kitchens to help out,” Johnson said. “And all of the sudden, now I find myself on the flip side of that, where, you know, it’s like I can’t survive.”

For more than two weeks, Johnson crashed at whoever’s house she was welcomed and slept in her car when she had nowhere to go. But on January 14, Johnson fell in a “friend of a friend’s home,” which resulted in a broken wrist and a concussion.

She felt she had finally hit rock bottom, and she reached out to the Mission of Yahweh, a homeless shelter for women and children operating in Houston since 1961, for help.

Because Johnson had been in contact with the shelter since December, the mission gave Johnson a bed, despite not admitting walk-ins. So on January 14, Johnson joined the more than 130 individuals — 62 of which are children — at the shelter.

“Most of the people that I’m around are people who got knocked around by some catastrophe and now all of a sudden are scrambling to try to survive,” Johnson said. “And this is an avenue where there’s some place to live, there’s a roof over your head and they feed you. In exchange [at the Mission of Yahweh], you do chores. You don’t live there for free.”

Since being admitted, Johnson has been able to get the medical help she needed, has gone through a professional development boot camp with nonprofit WorkFaith Connection, and has gotten grants to go back to school to get her associate’s degree from Houston Community College.

“Right now, I’m living the dream,” Johnson said. “You know, there are so many ‘isms’ that are attached to homelessness, and somebody being homeless and their situation and where they live and how they live. But I have gotten the most amazing support — I found so much non-judgmental spiritual support here. I haven’t been able to breathe for a lot of years, I haven’t really been able to just breathe and feel safe and feel cared for and feel like everything was going to be okay,” Johnson said.

All across the Houston area, thousands of people just like Johnson are searching for the chance to break free from the cycle of homelessness. Visit the Understanding Houston website learn more about homelessness and unemployment in our communities.

Heather Leighton


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