Houston: A Hurting City

Posted on by Vince Sarfraz

The following story was written for Youth For Christ USA. These are real YFC Stories showing how God is using YFC USA as a vehicle in raising up life-long followers of Jesus all across the nation.

Houston, You have a Problem

The time I’ve wasted is my biggest regret

Spent in these places I will never forget.

Just sitting and thinking about the things I have done

The crying, the laughing, the hurt and the fun.

…Memories of the past flash through my head

And the pain is obvious by the tears that I shed.

I ask myself why and where I went wrong

I guess I was weak when I should have been strong.

Living for the drugs and the wings I had grown

My feelings were lost, afraid to be shown.

--An excerpt from “Wasted Time,” a poem written by Hector, age 16, currently detained in one of Houston’s 19 juvenile centers.


On the streets of Houston, heat doesn’t keep the social scene from hopping.

The air on any given night is heavy with laughter, humidity, and fluctuating volumes as people flow through the doorways of restaurants, bars, and homes. The sidewalks host fewer cowboy boots than might be expected, but true to southern fashion, courtesy is maintained among the liveliness: smiles frequent and greetings guaranteed.

But a peek past linked arms and suntanned smiles in a developed part of the city points to an off-street. A glimpse down that street leads to the next block.

And a walk through that block just yards from the party reveals a sudden shift: poverty-stricken, underprivileged Texans paint quite a different street scene.

“It’s a city of huge contrasts,” says Brian Muchmore, Vice President of Youth For Christ's Cities Initiative. “You can be next to a multimillion dollar mansion and within a block you see poverty.”

“Houston is both traditional and diverse,” Brian continues. He adds that some issues include the lack of public transportation and the amount of traffic. “Nothing compares to Houston traffic.”

But most pressing in Houston is that a population problem has contributed to mass poverty. The city’s proximity to the border of Mexico has contributed to an influx of immigrants and not enough jobs to provide everyone with work.

“The population is insane,” he says. “With a rapidly growing immigrant population, jobs can’t be created fast enough. So there is a tremendous amount of poverty.

“There are almost one million kids, and over 65% of the kids in the public school system fall below the poverty line. Intense poverty.”

More and more young people are growing up in single-parent homes.

Sixty-six percent of Houston’s youth are considered at-risk.

13,000 kids are in juvenile detention.

Girls trying to escape their circumstances are being picked up by pimps.

Human trafficking is rampant.

“Houston is a major hub to that activity,” says Barrell Richardson, director of the Youth For Christ's Juvenile Justice Ministry in Harris County. “It’s a corridor, a pass-through place.”

Barrell explains that demand for sex is growing based on Houston’s tendency to draw in a great diversity of people. “The various opportunities in Houston mean that a lot of people are coming just to pass through, which means a lot of customers.”

What they are buying, however, was never supposed to be sold.

“We’re looking at kids who are ten, 11, 12 years old,” says Barrell. “We’re talking about babies getting sucked into these lifestyles.”

“It’s disgusting and awful,” says Tera Swigart, who also works with juveniles. “Our kids being identified as being trafficked have no idea that this is what’s happening to them.”

Barrell says that for the most part, the public is ignorant to the magnitude of the problem. “We need more public awareness and more resources,” he says. “For many people, it’s just part of the lifestyle. We need to educate the people and change the mindset.”

Tera has worked with kids in the juvenile justice system for 16 years.

“They’re just scrambling to survive,” she says. “Some of them will get in a fight to violate probation just to stay locked up. These kids are so embedded in the negative things in their lives.”

Barrell shares the story of a young woman who grew up in and out of juvenile facilities:

“At a young age, her mother’s boyfriend did something inappropriate with her, and that caused friction between her and her mom. She started running away and acting out, and beginning at age of 12 she was in and out of facilities or on probation.”

When Youth For Christ met the troubled young lady, they stuck with her.

“We helped her make it through high school and then get into college,” Barrell says. “She had everything going for her.”

After just one semester of college, she dropped out. She began dating an abusive boyfriend. She started living in shelters and is still there to this day.

“But she is so resilient,” says Barrell, who knows the girl well by now. “Every time she decides she wants to get it right, she uses the resources she knows are available to her and everything gets back on track. But she’s like the stock market: up and down, up and down.”

The young lady has recently acquired a steady job.

“She just turned 18,” Barrell continues. “I have high hopes that she will ultimately do well because she has it in her to do so. She climbs through things, sometimes she just doesn’t avoid the things she should. But she’s tough. She just has to learn the hard way sometimes.”

Her story of fluctuation unfortunately reflects a pattern among youth who serve time in the juvenile system.

“Our kids need support,” concludes Barrell. “And they need support even into their early adulthoods.”

According to Barrell, the solution might not be as complicated as you would think.

“Houston is a God-conscious city,” he says. “We need to get our kids back involved in church.”


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