If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

This is an old philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception.

Locally, you can pose a similar question about homelessness.

For some, the perception is that we don’t have a serious homeless problem in our communities.

Fortunately, not everyone has that perception.

We have smart people doing smart things to address the issue. But they need help.

The first step was a symposium that addressed homelessness last week at the University of Houston-Victoria.

More than 100 people showed up for the symposium, which included an overflow room to accommodate others.

We view this as a great first step, and give kudos to the organizers.

The presentation gave stats about homelessness, including homeless students. The homeless living out of a car or on the streets numbered more than 100. Victoria Independent School District classified 689 students as homeless. That number includes students who don’t have a permanent home or live with other family or friends.

For a smaller city like Victoria, the numbers are staggering.

Hurricane Harvey exacerbated the situation, wreaking havoc on apartments and houses and forcing hundreds to leave their homes. An Advocate survey found that about one-third of the city’s apartments were damaged, which only widened the issue of affordable housing and increased the homeless population without shelter.

Even before Harvey, Victoria wasn’t considered a cheap place to live. Harvey, though, pushed the issue front and center. For a better understanding of the issue, we urge readers to view the extensive investigative stories and editorials we published at victoriaadvocate.com/hidden.

One disappointing aspect to the symposium surfaced: No top city or county officials attended.

Whether you believe government should be involved in homelessness or affordable housing is moot. Our elected officials and other top city and county employees should be part of the conversation. They need to be part of the conversation. They should care enough about issues that plague their community to attend a symposium aimed at addressing them.

“I don’t think our officials do agree that there is a problem, (and) I had hoped that there might be someone here,” Lisa Griffin, president of the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition, said during the symposium panel discussion. “I think that perhaps just not coming to an event like this and not having that understanding of all the barriers and what that lifestyle is like ... Likely you don’t go under the bridge, and I don’t blame you for that, but I do blame you for not trying to find out when someone brings something to your attention that there is more to that story.”

The good news for top city/county officials and other community members is that Part 2 of the symposium will be March 7. During that symposium, likely answers and ways to help will be discussed.

The issues are complicated, but thankfully we have a great platform to discuss them. It’s going to take all of us to navigate this maze and come up with solutions and ideas to help. We hope to see more people, including top city and county officials, involved at Part 2 of the symposium.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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