Since the summer of 2018, the federal government, with cooperation of the State of Texas, opened detention sites for tens of thousands of immigrants seeking asylum. Tens of thousands of babies, children, teens and adults were shuffled to different states in planes and buses to temporary locations. Communities found unused buildings and built enclosures almost overnight. I am only citing the speed not the validity of the purpose.
Contrast this with the way America has dealt with its chronic homeless population. Years of virtual silence at the national level, reduction in funds within states and a pervasive tendency to move the problem down the road, even for veterans that we purport to love and respect.
Bringing that down to the local level, many buildings got rapidly repaired after Hurricane Harvey, but the Salvation Army’s Emergency Men’s Shelter struggled for two years to raise funds to rebuild. We knew it was the only night shelter in Victoria, and an inadequate one at that, but it appears to me, a layman, that we just let it struggle.
Few of us can say with certainty where people who might have used that shelter have been sleeping during the past two years. We are quite comfortable with them being invisible. Despite the dedicated mission of some nonprofits, some church groups, some businesses and numerous volunteers and despite the creative beginnings of Promise Point Village, many human beings in Victoria County have no safe place to sleep and many more are on the cusp of that condition.
Now, at least one of these people, has become visible and lives outside in an Old Victoria West neighborhood. Summertime and the living is uneasy.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness (endhomelessness.org) estimates there were 25,000 homeless persons in Texas in 2017. The trend has been downward in most states since 2007 but not in Texas. It occurs to me that how Texas, or America, handles issues of man’s inhumanity to man, is how we handle most unpleasant things.
We deny their existence as long as possible, we blame others and wait for someone else to fix it, and when it begins to encroach on our personal well-being, we pass laws to punish other people. Contrast that to how we handle the acquisition of things we want or think we need, such as personal luxury items, sport stadiums, mega churches, and private security patrols. We eagerly pool our resources, make sacrifices, hold telethons, and get very involved in fundraising and “making it happen.” Victoria has a history of big-hearted achievements, such as refurbishing the old courthouse, creating Warrior’s Weekend and helping to rebuild the Victoria Islamic Center.
When Victoria residents want something bad enough, they are Victoria Strong. So far, dealing with the human tragedy that is homelessness is not something we want badly enough. We are still in the denial, blame, punish, cycle.
Humans like to talk about problems and form committees and argue over the wording of a mission statement. Ask anyone who does community outreach, any religious leader or Gary Moses. It is very hard to find people who want to build consensus, roll up their sleeves and work together to do great things.
I’ve been on any number of nonprofit boards, committees and volunteer work teams in my 10 years in Victoria and, frankly, it’s always the same people who show up and the same people who get asked to fund programs that will benefits this community. Expressing your concern on Facebook or at open meetings doesn’t count. Working to change or improve difficult situations is time-consuming, often disappointing, and not for the faint of heart, no matter how rewarding the outcome. I learned long ago that some people have trouble saying “no,” whiles other have no trouble saying “no.” We need to overcome that dichotomy and unlearn our selfishness.
A move along ordinance, basically toothless, does nothing to take us closer to the real solution of a better life for all Victoria residents, those on the street and those living in a beautiful neighborhood.
Let’s listen to our big hearts and summon up the same enthusiasm for creating positive change as we have summoned up for a punitive ordinance. The Alliance mentioned above has identified that communities with reduced homelessness have used a community-wide coordinated approach, joining agencies and community groups. Lengthening the table instead of building silos.
They offer robust prevention services, have a shared data system to effectively allocate services that fit individual needs, and they evaluate progress and adjust services accordingly. The success of coordination of efforts between city services, homeless advocates, various not-for profits, and other interested groups is well documented and we should take advantage of the expertise available locally and elsewhere.
Those communities had the will to get informed and work together to succeed. I believe Victoria has that will, but it won’t be found in a City Council ordinance debate.