A man washes his hands using one of Rise Houston Church's portable hand-washing stations.

Image: Nijalon Dunn

Rise Houston Church had only been holding services for a month when the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. While many with a fledgling operation would have felt discouraged, the church’s founders, Greater Houston natives and married couple Stan and Lane DePue, instead found purpose.

“We wanted to be a church that was always serving,” says Stan DePue, who moved his family back to the Bayou City in August to start the small, house church in the Third Ward. “Not just having environments that preach it and worship it, but to live out their faith and show people in action.”

Stan DePue, pastor of Rise Houston Church, assembles a portable hand-washing station.

Image: Nijalon Dunn

As he looked around at the panic, the pastor quickly realized Houston’s homeless community was at an even greater disadvantage than usual. According to the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, there are approximately 3,500 individuals experiencing homelessness Harris County. Health organizations were recommending people thoroughly wash their hands multiple times a day, but with the shuttering of local businesses and public facilities—places the unsheltered population often rely on to practice basic hygiene—how would they maintain good hygiene?

“I saw what a homeless ministry in Atlanta was doing, and that was putting out sinks,” DePue says. “And it was like instant, OK we’ve got to get this in Houston.”

DePue quickly found that most portable sinks for RVs and tiny homes were already sold out, but with a little persistence and support from the all-knowing YouTube, he figured out how to add a foot pumps and water tanks to utility sinks. Rise Houston put out its first four sinks at the end of March as part of its Clean Hands initiative. Now, at the end of May, DePue and his flock have placed 16 sinks at various homeless hotspots in the Houston-area and have three more coming in the next two weeks. Because they are a new entity in the city, DePue has partnered with several organizations, including those in the Coalition’s network of partners, to get the sinks out into the community.

So far, Rise Houston has placed 16 portable hand-washing stations in the Houston area.

Image: Nijalon Dunn

Rise Houston’s sinks aren’t the only ones in and around Houston. Both the city of Houston and Harris County have together put out more than 25 sinks, says Ana Rausch, vice president of program operations at the Coalition, which serves as the lead agency to the homeless response system for Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties. The Coalition also worked with the city and county set up a quarantine facility for infected members of the unsheltered population.

Like the city and the county, DePue’s church hasn’t just placed the sinks and let them be. Armed with face masks, gloves, and a whole lot of bleach, volunteers have continued to maintain the sinks, disinfecting them and replacing dirty water tanks.

Image: Nijalon Dunn

Currently, Rise Houston’s sinks cost $300 to make, though DePue hopes to find ways to bring the cost down, plus about $75 per sink every six to eight weeks for maintenance, which includes cleaning supplies as well as soap and paper towels that are left at each sink for the homeless to use. While some worried the sinks would get destroyed, DePue says they haven’t run into much vandalism, adding that the sinks are also being used for other basic hygiene practices like teeth brushing.

Finding a cause so early into the founding of their church has inspired the DePue’s to think even bigger when it comes to their mission of service.

“Basic hygiene for the homeless needs to increase across the board,” he says. “No matter anyone's opinions of the homeless population, I think there'd be very few people that wouldn’t say, they need a basic action that shows they are known, and cared for, and loved.”

To support Rise Houston’s Clean Hands initiative, visit risehouston.net.

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