Texas fights to give homes to the homeless
Yet again, the Internet enables a new outrageous trend. This time, it’s a Tumblr blog called Selfies With Homeless People, which essentially exploits the impoverished, starving and less fortunate for the entertainment of others.
To add to this insensitivity, the city council of Pensacola, Fla. passed a “camping” ordinance last summer that criminalizes the homeless for sleeping outside while “adjacent to or inside a tent or sleeping bag or atop and/or covered by materials” like bedrolls, newspapers, blankets, cardboard or any type of makeshift shelter.
In defense of this act, the city council argued homeless “camping” can affect Pensacola on a dangerous level by affecting the city’s “aesthetics, sanitation, public health and safety of its citizens.”
One could argue that smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and driving also affect the city and its citizens the same way — yet there are no ordinances passed against drinkers, smokers or drivers that prevent them from doing so.
A petition is circling at Change.org that has 18,000 supporters and counting.
Since the passing of the ordinance last summer, Pensacola Mayor Aston Hayward has changed his stance on the issue of ordinances against the homeless. He now favors an ordinance that would instead repeal such a blanket ban after “reflecting in prayer.” Hopefully, he realized how ridiculous this ordinance is.
Here in Texas, FACE Homelessness reports that — according to “Helping America’s Homeless: Emergency Shelter or Affordable Housing?” — more than 256,000 Texans will experience homelessness each year. That means “that on any given day in Texas, there are over 79,000 people” who are homeless.
In 2011, the Texas Interagency Council for the Homeless proposed a “Texas State Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.”
The executive summary states, “The pursuit of happiness and well-being begins with a stable home, yet over the course of a year, seven percent of extremely low-income households in Texas cannot access this fundamental resource. … For families with children, residential instability and loss of housing hinder childhood development. Children in homeless families struggle to keep up in school.
“For adults, exclusion from the housing market impedes success at work, interferes with job searches and may damage health. Most episodes of homelessness occur because low-income households cannot afford the high relative cost of housing. Personal factors that might impede access to housing, including issues with mental health and substance abuse, figure prominently only among Texans experiencing chronic homelessness. Chronically homeless individuals represent between only 16 and 21 percent of the homeless population.”
This causes readers to wonder what can be done to help the homeless families and individuals who have found a place to live on community sidewalks and under forlorn bridges. Luckily, the Texas Interagency Council has a plan.
The executive summary continues, “To address these realities, the Texas Interagency Council for the Homeless proposes this state plan to help Texas’s most vulnerable citizens enter and remain in safe housing. A substantial increase in the availability of affordable and permanent supportive housing, along with greater coordination of state agency resources to help Texans access supportive services when needed, will expand the state’s capacity to prevent and end homelessness. These measures will help individuals become engaged participants, not outcasts, in society. Helping Texans access housing will contribute to communities’ health and vitality. Texas can be a leading state in a nationwide effort to ensure that all persons have safe, decent, affordable housing, positioning them to contribute to and benefit from our great future.”
According to a recent federal report, on one night in January 2013, there were 30,000 people homeless in Texas. This is a 26 percent decrease since 2007 and a 13 percent decrease since 2012.
Despite this decrease, many people still believe there are too many people without shelter.
Ann Howard, the executive director of Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, said there are still too many individuals sleeping outside in the elements and that “it is unconscionable that 448 people in Austin, Texas, in 2014 were found outside with temperatures falling to 29 degrees.”
Yet even with all the do-gooder proposals and state-funded programs to help educate communities how to better help end homeless and to care for their homeless population, The National Coalition for the Homeless’ report entitled “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, Narratives of the Meanest Cities” ranks Dallas as sixth and Houston as seventh of the 20 meanest cities to the homeless population.
Despite what we may feel about our native Texas, even we do not have enough protections for the impoverished. It is evident, though, that something must be done. Overcrowded shelters and assistance networks are not enough.
Texas needs to find a priority in its residents — all of them, homeless or not. As a friendly state, it should be our duty to set the standard for other states on how to treat the people living within them.
Opinion columnist Juanita Deaver is an anthropology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]