Texas - Building health and community yields huge benefits for Lubbock’s homeless

Open Door in Lubbock, Texas


Chad Wheeler, executive director of Open Door, takes a moment to connect with James Dupree, manager of the community center.

Chad Wheeler is a religious man, but helping people who are experiencing homelessness is less about being called into service by God and more about finding community.

“That’s really what drew me in,” says Wheeler, executive director of Open Door in Lubbock, Texas. “I saw people dealing openly and honestly with their own issues, and I thought maybe they would accept me and support me, as well.”

Wheeler came to Open Door for the first time when he was a freshman at Lubbock Christian University at the invitation of his friend, who was recovering from methamphetamine addiction. That was 14 years ago.

“I just never left,” he says.

As a recovering addict himself, Wheeler believes Open Door is successful because it is a place where people can find a network of support through relationships: “The people we serve have become my own community.”

Open Door has four main parts: A church, supportive housing for those who are chronically homeless, transitional housing for victims of sex trafficking, and a community center.

Covenant Health, part of the Providence St. Joseph Health family, supports the Community Center Health and Hygiene program, most recently with a $25,100 grant to pay for the bulk purchase of personal hygiene items, utility expenses, first aid supplies and breakfast.

“It’s a relatively small budget item, but for people on the streets, daily access to a shower is huge,” Wheeler says. “A person’s ability to care for themselves is important to their emotional health. It’s a step toward regaining stability and hoping for something better.”

The community center serves more than 500 people a year, 300 to 350 through the Covenant funding. Altogether, Open Door programs are serving almost 800 people a year. Open Door’s vision aligns with Covenant’s in that both organizations see a direct link between a person’s health and the stability of their housing situation.

Wheeler says he sees the connection ever day: “Poor health is already a contributor to homelessness. And if you don’t have a home, you’ll likely experience poor health.”

And just like basic hygiene, first aid may seem like a small investment of dollars, but the benefits grow exponentially.

“Minor cuts, scratches and bug bites can turn into really big things if you can’t keep them clean,” Wheeler says.

Wheeler says that sometimes the complexity of the problems he sees can be overwhelming: “With what we do it’s rarely one thing. It’s usually so many personal as well as systemic issues all tied together. The experiences they’ve had growing up often make it very difficult for them to find health and stability as an adult.”

That’s why Wheeler doesn’t measure success only in terms of statistics: “It’s not just about whether we’ve seen five of our friends move to housing this month. That’s great, and we celebrate that. But if we have five people who know that we can care for them and they trust us, and they know that we know them by name – that is something that outlasts whatever success we have at the moment. The thing that can be constant is friendship.”

Learn more about Open Door.