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.
Should the city of Victoria enact an anti-camping ordinance?
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.