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The Victoria City Council meets at the Municipal Court building, 107 W. Juan Linn St.

The Victoria City Council plans to introduce an anti-camping ordinance to address homelessness in Victoria.

Council members Tuesday discussed creating the ordinance after Councilman Dr. Andrew Young described recent issues about people camping on public properties and in city rights of way.

City attorney Thomas Gwosdz explained to the council that no ordinance against public camping exists in Victoria for the police department to enforce.

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Gwosdz shared information about other Texas cities that prohibit public camping everywhere except at specific, designated areas or facilities as well as cities that ban public camping entirely but offer enough beds for the homeless to stay.

Victoria resident Kathleen Edwards told the Council about a homeless woman who camps in her neighborhood and who she said has “hijacked a once-beautiful, serene spot in our community.”

She said the historic neighborhood is now “marked with feces and a roaming homeless person who camps out in the open, visible for all to see, near several for-sale signs, throughout surrounding blocks.”

Edwards told the council she thinks an ordinance would help address the problem.

“While it’s not a perfect fix, it’s a place to begin,” she said.

Other residents echoed Edwards’ desire for an ordinance to prevent people from camping in their neighborhoods.

Homeless advocate Kim Pickens told the City Council that Victoria does not have adequate overnight shelter options. The Salvation Army, the city’s only emergency homeless shelter for men, has yet to reopen after closing because of extensive damage from Hurricane Harvey. Mid-Coast Family Services has a shelter, but the majority of the time it is “110% full of domestic violence victims” and has no room for the homeless, Pickens said.

“We have this idea that we have all these places and all these spaces for people to go when we don’t,” she said.

Pickens said she thinks the city should partner with the organizations in Victoria that offer resources for the homeless in order to address the issue.

“We have to decide as a community: Do we want to consider these people who live in this town as our citizens? Are they worthy of our help, or are they not?” Pickens asked.

After further discussion, City Manager Jesús Garza said he heard a twofold direction from the council: to develop an ordinance to address the immediate need as well as look at long-term at solutions to address the underlying issues of homelessness in the city.

Young and other council members expressed urgency to address the issue quickly rather than let it continue coming to the council for further discussion, so Gwosdz said he plans to return with an ordinance for review at the Aug. 6 meeting.

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter.

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(3) comments

Grace Butler

What the actual living foxtrot. This is horrible message to send. We have a homelessness problem and this ordinance would only worsen it. Unless the goal is to imprison every single homeless person found violating it, which would cost the city far more than building a shelter with enough beds, I can't imagine how it would have any effect at all besides hurting people who are already suffering. Also, Ms Edwards should consider her own lucky stars that she doesn't have to live, sleep, and defecate outside instead of complaining how her rich and fancy neighborhood is now defaced by human suffering.

Daniel Martin

“We have to decide as a community: Do we want to consider these people who live in this town as our citizens? Are they worthy of our help, or are they not?” Pickens asked. That statement is startling. We must decide if fellow humans are worthy of our help. Let that sink in.

Lisa Griffin

An anti-camping ordinance does not "address" homelessness. I just makes homelessness less visible in the community and in Ms. Edward's neighborhood. It literally does nothing to "address" homelessness. The homeless woman who sleeps in the dirt without a tent in Ms. Edward's neighborhood will just have to move to a new neighborhood where she might feel safe enough to close her eyes and rest from her constant state of vulnerability to elements, health issues, and crime. I will be at the April meeting and hope the city will hear me when I say affordable housing is the way to "address" homelessness. Lisa Griffin, President Victoria Area Homeless Coalition Director of Homeless Services, Mid-Coast Family Services

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