Southwest Key plans to add 5th site
By Gilbert Hoffman
As debate rages endlessly in the nation about the federal government policy of separating children from their parents who entered the county illegally, the debate has now moved to the Houston political stage because the state’s largest provider of these services has requested a permit to use a building at 419 Emancipation Avenue on Houston’s east side. Southwest Key Programs is the largest provider in Texas, now housing 2,725 unaccompanied children in 16 locations.
This includes 4 facilities in the greater Houston area that are virtually unknown and unnoticed, including one that dates back to 1991. Two of these are in the North Channel/Northeast circulation area. Casa Montezuma is on the I-10 Feeder road in the Channelview area. Neighbors had suspected that the facility was a federal children’s shelter, but weren’t sure, they told this newspaper. Records from the Texas Health and Human Services show that the facility is currently housing 191 children, and recently had its license increased to 210, an increase of 11% similar to figures statewide. This shelter is licensed to provide child care services only, since May 2017. Children housed are from 10 to 17 years of age.
The other facility in our area is at 7900 Mesa Drive, in Northeast Houston. It houses 54 children, ages 10 to 17, and is licensed for multiple services, including Emotional Disorders. It has had a license from the state since 1991. Most of the Texas shelters are run by two nonprofits: Southwest Key Programs and BCFS Health and Human Services. The latter is a church sponsored group, based in Dallas.
Southwest Key is a private company based in Austin, founded in 1987 by Juan Sanchez and his wife Jennifer. Southwest Key receives most of its funding in grants and contract revenues. It’s income has increased substantially, from $193 million in 2015, to $310 million in 2018 in the “unaccompanied alien children” program. Its projected income next year is $458 million. It currently houses about 5,100 immigrant children, and operates 26 immigrant youth facilities in Texas, Arizona, and California.
When it was announced that they would lease a building in Houston to expand their unaccompanied children program, local organizations and politicians raised their voices in opposition. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Pct. 1 County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, State Senator Sylvia Garcia, State Representatives Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle, and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have been seen either picketing or voicing objection over the media.
Mayor Turner said adamantly, “I do not want to be an enabler in this process. I do not want the city to participate in this process.” He called on the State not to license the facility.
The building was formerly a Star of Hope residence hall, and can house about 200 persons. It is at 419 Emancipation Avenue.