A kitchen becomes a community

Trish Hastings has a conversation with Rufino Saldana at Christ’s Kitchen during lunch in this 2016 Advocate file photo.

An ordinance that limits where homeless people can sleep in the city was approved on final reading by Victoria City Council on Tuesday.

Despite a divided council and pleas from members of the community to address the problem of homelessness without restricting camping, the ordinance passed in a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Rawley McCoy and Councilwoman Josephine Soliz voting against it.

The ordinance, which prohibits camping in residential areas and historic districts, goes into effect in 10 days.

“I’m baffled, and I’m heartbroken,” said Trish Hastings, the executive director of Christ’s Kitchen, after the meeting. “I’m speechless.”

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The ordinance was amended Tuesday to further clarify the places where camping will not be allowed. What was previously listed as “primarily residential areas” was amended to “the public right of way adjacent to or directly across the street from a single- or multifamily residence or adjacent to or directly across the street from a lot that is adjacent to a single- or multifamily residence.”

According to the map the council provided to the public in August, on some streets in the city, people would be allowed to camp on one side and not the other. Councilman Mark Loffgren proposed the amendment Tuesday, explaining it would make it more clear where people are allowed to camp. Soliz was the only council member who voted against the amendment.

Camping will also be prohibited in the city’s historic districts.

Since it was first introduced in mid- July, the ordinance has sparked impassioned conversations among many demographics and has left many questioning its effects. During Tuesday’s meeting, nine residents spoke directly against the ordinance, while two people spoke in favor of it.

Those who spoke against the ordinance included David Frankson, who said he is homeless.

“I just wanted to say, it’s hard out here,” he said to the council. Frankson said he is working and saving to find a place to live but has been struggling because of the high cost of living.

“But I’m not giving up,” he said.

Homeless advocate Kim Pickens, who has previously called on the council to stop and consider the situations of the homeless before implementing an ordinance, said to the council Tuesday that they should consider all people who live in Victoria when making decisions, including those who are homeless.

“We have a problem in this town where we don’t like to see problems; we like for them to go away,” she said. “We’re going to have to dig in, we’re going to have to do some work and we’re going to have to actually have conversations to get these things accomplished.”

She said there are homeless people who have “done all they can” and still have no place to go. She said the ordinance “complicates everything.”

“We continue to put up barriers as opposed to building a bridge to figure out how to make things work,” she said.

Gail Hanselka, who first brought the matter to the council after a homeless woman began sleeping in her mother’s neighborhood, said Tuesday the matter is a problem in all areas of the city. She said the ordinance is necessary.

“This ordinance, it’s a solution,” she said.

Aug. 20, the council delayed voting on the ordinance to allow its members time to research and consider it and separated the second and third votes. However, the council voted to do both final readings after a proposal to do so by Councilman Jeff Bauknight.

The vote to do both readings Tuesday passed 4-3, with McCoy, Soliz and Loffgren voting against.

Last week, Loffgren said he thinks the council could benefit from a work session to discuss the ordinance and homelessness at large.

He said Tuesday when he sat at council meetings for numerous years, homelessness was rarely talked about, which means good has come from the conversation. Loffgren repeated his desire for the council to have a work session about the matter Tuesday.

“We will have a work session and will talk about homelessness, about what the city can do,” he said. “Because if we work together, maybe we can get some people off the street, and that’s what we need to do.”

Council members Andrew Young, Bauknight and Jan Scott have been unwavering in their support of the ordinance since it was first introduced. Young has said while the conversation has shifted to homelessness on a bigger level, he thinks the ordinance achieves what it was intended to do: address the public safety and private property concerns of residents in Victoria.

McCoy said if the ordinance isn’t working, the council can revisit and even repeal it later on. He said that no matter the council’s decision of the council on Tuesday, he would not let the conversation about homelessness rest.

“I can assure you from my standpoint, whatever happens, I’m not going to forget the issue of homelessness,” he said. “I’m going to work as one of seven councilmen to always keep it at the forefront, and it will not be forgotten.”

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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