Bastrop pastor plans to expand mini-shelters on his property

A pastor in Bastrop created temporary shelters on his property to house the homeless (KXAN Photo)
A pastor in Bastrop created temporary shelters on his property to house the homeless (KXAN Photo)

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — A central Texas pastor is expanding his mission to house homeless families, doubling the number of small, single-family shelters on his property where he operates a soup kitchen. Pastor Roland Nava converts sheds into fully-furnished one-room living spaces for families of five or more.

One of the families is now able to look for a rental property while they search for a house to buy. Jeff Randle’s family of four has been staying at one of the shelters for a few weeks, and in that time they’ve been able to save two full paychecks to go toward a deposit. Before living here, the money would have kept going to a hotel room they could barely afford.

“I can literally say we only spent $9 over the weekend,” he said with pride. “That’s, like, the first time ever.”

Part of the reason is Nava provides meals for the families here through his Open Door Soup Kitchen on the same property. “You got to watch your weight around here, though, man,” Randle joked, “‘cause it’s a lot of food.”

Volunteers from the Calvary Episcopal Church of Bastrop were serving up breakfast and lunch as they do every Monday. Joe Sills, a church member, dished up plates of eggs, sausage, potatoes and biscuits for whoever came through the door. “He carries a heavy load,” he said of Nava, “I’ll put it that way.”

Thanks in part to Sills’ church, his load is about to get heavier: Calvary Episcopal Church is sponsoring one of the three new shelters that Nava plans to have in use by the beginning of April. Two other churches decided to sponsor the other two units after seeing KXAN’s story in January, he said. The third is awaiting a sponsor to outfit the space with flooring, furniture and electricity.

“For the three homes that are going to come in, we already have families that are ready to come in,” Nava said, standing in the middle of a staked-out patch of ground that will soon hold one of the three additional shelters.

He wants to give as many families as possible the chance he knows they need — the chance to get a fresh start, to save up a bit of money, to get back on their feet. “It’s not a good feeling, man, when door after door gets shut in your face.”

Nava has seen his fair share of closed doors; his criminal history prevented him from getting a job or finding a place to live in southeast Texas, he said. “I was homeless in Houston for almost three years,” Nava said. “That struggle can hurt you, and it could destroy your family if you can’t go through it together.”

But that struggle led him here, to Bastrop, where he started serving free meals to anyone in need, and now offering up a place to live rent-free for up to three months.

Since the beginning of the year, when he originally planned to hold the shelters’ grand opening before bad weather delayed the ribbon-cutting now set for Tuesday, workers have also finished building a shower house and bathroom next to the shelters, sponsored by Barrientios Construction Services in Bastrop.

And he’s not done yet — Nava hopes to find business or church sponsorships for two or three more units, bringing the total to eight or nine. He also plans to build a play area for the kids who come through. In the future, he envisions building low-rent homes on a piece of property he has yet to acquire for the families to transition to.

“When you’ve been through it, you have a little more compassion for the people that are going through it,” he said, “and you know how hard the struggle is to get back on your feet.”

Randle’s family is getting there. He’s working to secure a rental property in town while he tries to sell a duplex in Houston that was destroyed during Hurricane Harvey — the reason they ended up in Bastrop to begin with.

“I think because of Pastor Nava’s background, he understands different types of people,” Randle said. That’s enabled him to work toward a new start in a new town, a chance that wouldn’t have come as easily without Nava’s help.

The Bastrop Chamber of Commerce is hosting Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, which starts at 11 a.m., at Nava’s property north of town. Nava expects local leaders and a state lawmaker to be on hand to officially open the shelters.

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