Bayou City becoming numb to suffering

Houston, we have a problem. UH, now you get to see it.

Not to say that the discrepancy between wealth and poverty is too large, but can most of us imagine seeing little shotgun houses in Barker Cypress or Cuney Homes in Katy?

Third Ward is slightly different than Sunnyside or Fifth Ward. The colleges make it nicer than the rest of the city’s impoverished areas, but there are some serious problems in this city that deserve attention.

A few weeks ago, I was getting off the train at the Wheeler station headed toward Fiesta.

As I crossed the median, I saw a skeleton in a hospital gown, on a walker. The man’s skin was so pale, it would be hard to see him as more than that.

Some guy brought him some water and I continued my errand. When I came out, a storm had begun and this man was standing under the awning of the a nearby Payless.

I decided to have a conversation with him while waiting for the rain to stop. He was dying as we spoke, so I called an ambulance. While we spoke, I found out that he had just been released from LBJ Hospital that morning.

The experience left a bitter taste in my mouth, but also an acceptance of what this city is about.

It is a shame and an embarrassment to say that my city has the world’s best medical center only blocks away from where this man was standing.

The worst part is the disdain I saw on people’s faces as a dying man leaned against my shoulder. A woman who was also waiting out the storm stood near us. The fiery looks she shot at me for speaking to the man chilled me to the bone.

When the EMTs from the fire department, the one government service everyone can agree is worth the cost, arrived, they also made me feel that trying to stop a man from dying on the streets was a waste of time.

Why is there such a casual acceptance of people dying on the streets, not from violence, but poverty and disease?

Isn’t that why we send aid workers to Africa? What about East Houston? This would be cheaper and the results would be more tangible.

Most of the people who can make a difference drive through these areas with their windows up and radios blaring. Being oblivious is easy.

It is also simple to blame poverty on bad decisions, but I challenge anyone to live for 12 months on a budget of $280 a week for food, shelter and bills. That is more than any minimum wage job pays weekly.

This is not a matter of lazy begging or welfare mothers having babies for a government check.

The apathy toward poverty has created a situation in which it sometimes makes more fiscal sense to be on welfare than work.

Look around you, there is no money at all in East Houston. Property taxes support schools, but there is little revenue in this area.

There are no Wal-Marts to fund local charities or pay taxes. There are no huge shopping centers such as the Galleria or the Houston Pavilions, nor innovative business districts.
East Houston is a collection of homes and boarded up warehouses with Joe-the-Plumber-like businesses.

No one is weak for helping those in dire straights. The amount of help needed is not as high as some would have us to believe and it does not need to be reactionary.

Another drug rehab facility is not going to make any more of a difference. Another after-school art program at Jack Yates High School is not going to redeem the impoverished.

But to say a simple minimum wage hike will make all the difference is also silly.

A hike will shut down the few small business shops that do pay taxes, like the Third Ward bike shop that allows children who live in the area to build their own bike to keep them off the streets.

Those are the kinds of businesses that operate out here. Poor people can take care of themselves and can help others, but when they fight just to eat, it is hard to trickle neighborhood wealth down to the children.

Cougars, when you leave this campus with a degree, don’t forget that for a number of years you were a part of Third Ward. Leave this place better than when you entered.

Abdul Khan is a political science and history senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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