Victoria City Council on Tuesday delayed voting on an ordinance aimed at the homeless to allow more time for its members to research and consider it.
The council plans to revisit the ordinance, which would prohibit public camping in primarily residential areas and historic districts, Sept. 17.
“This is really getting confusing,” said Councilman Rafael De La Garza, who proposed to table the conversation. He said the deferment will allow the council more time to consider what staff and residents have said at recent meetings and to study the effect of the ordinance.
The council voted 4-3 to table the conversation, with council members Jeff Bauknight, Andrew Young and Jan Scott voting against.
The discussion of implementing an ordinance has sparked support and criticism from both residents and city officials since it was first proposed in mid-July. During the meeting's citizen communication period, eight people spoke against the ordinance, and one person spoke directly in favor of it.
Many people in opposition have said an ordinance isn’t the best way to address homelessness.
Earlier Tuesday, Michelle, 37, and Wallace “Tray” McNary ate a free hot meal in a space shared by many of Victoria’s homeless at Christ’s Kitchen. The couple, both native to Victoria, said they have been homeless and living in their car for about four months.
“People’s understanding of homelessness has really changed, and maybe you’ve got to start somewhere, but you have to look at why people are homeless – single out that problem before doing the rest of this,” Tray McNary, 45, said.
McNary said he tries to find daily odd jobs to make ends meet – which, for the two of them, means earning enough money for gas and for food.
“Predominantly, we just try to survive,” he said. “When you’re making a lot of decisions off of five to ten bucks, it’s pretty hard.”
The couple said they lived in San Marcos for about six months and moved back to Victoria about four months ago. McNary said each night, they find somewhere to park their car where they will be out of the way and safe.
Until Tuesday, the ordinance discussed by the council included using a vehicle as a living accommodation, but was amended Tuesday to eliminate that from the definition of camping in public.
Though the ordinance may not affect them directly, McNary said an ordinance of any kind aimed at the homeless will place a burden on members of the community.
“If you’re parked somewhere overnight and people see you in there, they aren’t going to like that, and it might still be a problem, too,” he said. “It’s not easy to find a safe place where you won’t be bothered.”
City staff on Tuesday provided a map that outlines where in the city it would and would not be lawful for people to camp.
During the meeting, Kim Pickens, a longtime homeless advocate, asked the council to vote against the ordinance and consider the situations of the homeless.
“We have a lot of people out there, and they’re not hurting people,” she said. “And so I would implore you to please not put a target on them.”
Trish Hastings, the executive director of Christ’s Kitchen, echoed the desire for the council to “slow down” before taking action.
Hastings named groups including Be Well Victoria, Mid-Coast Family Services, Christ’s Kitchen, Perpetual Help Home, the Salvation Army and the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition that are working together and scheduling community meetings to “determine what the needs are and how they can be met.”
“If you would just join us at the table and help us come up with solutions, that would be wonderful,” she said. “I’m asking that you first help create a safe place for our friends to be, and then let’s work on adequate low-income housing and the other needs that are brought up by the communities we serve.”
During the council’s conversation, Mayor Rawley McCoy said his position has not changed. At the council’s Aug. 6 meeting, he was the sole opponent to the first reading of the ordinance, though Councilman Mark Loffgren and Mayor Pro-Tem Josephine Soliz were absent.
“For me personally, I don’t think it’s going to achieve what we think it’s going to achieve,” McCoy said. He added that the council can discuss an ordinance after it has taken the time to study and explore other options.
Bauknight disagreed, saying, “I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Bauknight reiterated the fact that the ordinance is not designed to be a solution to homelessness but would provide a legal way for police to address recent complaints about homeless individuals in neighborhoods.
“We’re trying to provide a way that we can all civilly live together when a certain segment of the population chooses not to be civil and follow civility,” he said. “And so, for me, you have to put something on the books to enforce that civility.”
McCoy said the ordinance could create a cycle where people are arrested and released back on the street in 24 hours and can return to the same place they got picked up from. At the Aug. 6 meeting, Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said an ordinance “is by no means the panacea for solving camping issues.”
“But doing nothing accomplishes nothing,” Young said Tuesday.
On the hot afternoon as the McNarys sat in the trunk of their car, they said they hope the “problem of homelessness is fixed, not just thrown around.” The two said they didn’t know where they’d park their car Tuesday night.
“But I do know that we’ll be in here,” Tray McNary said.
This story was updated Aug. 21, 2019 to clarify how many people spoke in favor of the ordinance and how many opposed it during the city council meeting.