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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Columns

Homelessness crashes in the curbs of our minds


It’s one thing to say homelessness in Houston has decreased, and completely another to say it’s decreasing.

Whatever their visibility, Houston’s homeless are in truth an invisible population. They make the news, on occasion, whenever their retention has dropped, or a shelter’s been established, but when it comes time to count the numbers, they suddenly disappear. It’s as if, because they aren’t paying rent, grocery tabs and car notes, they don’t exist at all, and for some people in this city, they really don’t.

On any given night in Houston, up to 10,000 individuals are dreaming on the pavement with nowhere to go, according to the Beacon’s Houston statistics. Those are heel-clicking numbers. If nothing else, they put the city’s supposed improvement by 14 percent — according to the Coalition for the Homeless — into context.

A more practical perspective might consider that homeless people’s situation is self-inflicted, and the means to get them off the street lies in their own hands, but practicality and accuracy don’t always coincide.

More than half of the homeless have mental illnesses that make re-acclimation unlikely at best. Worse yet, the overwhelming majority of these sicknesses are comparatively untreatable. Or they could be treated, given professional-grade physicians space and time to allow for improvements in their situations. But six-figure medical bills and homelessness rarely mix.

Many of the remaining homeless population is made up of drug addicts, and although the bodies occupying shelters have increased by just under a third, another third of this same number found themselves filling in the gaps on Richmond Avenue only days after they’d been vacated.

If there’s an easy solution to this problem, a cure-all to tuck everyone in a bed at night, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it. It won’t materialize in a classroom, through a power point or from the lips of some triple master’s graduate. Your professors don’t know it, your parents have forgotten it and you won’t find it on the television.

Even more debatable is whether or not a solution for this city is to be found.

It’ll stay that way until we develop a common sense of empathy and some sort of standard to post improvements against. Until the city agrees it has a problem, and that the problem is only getting fatter, it’s something we’ll never see, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

Then again, maybe we won’t. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is invisible to you to begin with.

Bryan Washington is a sociology and creative writing sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]

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