Matt Briscoe and Art Metzinger
The Southside LightContact The Authors
Cities all across the United States are grappling with the problem of homeless.
Houston has an ordinance that bans unorganized groups from outdoor feeding of people in city parks. Dallas has begun strong enforcement of that city's ban on eating and sleeping on property without permission. And just recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent a strong message to cities around the state that implied either you do something or we will.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, homelessness is one societal problem that has nearly been shifted entirely to the local level. In recent years, federal aid has been cut so drastically that programs from the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton eras are starting to feel the strain. In fact, the frustration and anger towards homeless people in general is even being from the White House itself as President Trump has repeatedly mocked Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" philosophy. But even many who identify as democrats say that they problem is getting out of hand and politics aside, many believe that this one issue is less partisan that practical. But what happens when compassion and frustration meet at the intersection of their inevitable collision course? The answer can be seen right here at home in our own backyard.
Over on the far south side lies the bedroom community of Flour Bluff, where one of the city's largest concentrations of homeless citizens is found. While it seems that the city has identified Flour Bluff as being project center for their new homeless initiatives, it being met with both acceptance and resistance--often in the same sentence.
William Washington lives off of Laguna Shores in Flour Bluff and he knows all too well the costs associated with the growing homeless in the area. He has dealt with the problem for years and he has seen it get worse.
"People are acting like this is new here and it isn't," says Washington. "It is more visible these days but it is really something that has been here all along."
Like many, Washington has seen his fair share of vandalism from what he believes are homeless citizens. Most of it he claims has been nickel and dime vandalism but he knows of others that have had far worse.
A string of fishing houses off of Laguna Shores on Beasley have been vandalized on multiple occasions, including as recently as this past Summer when thousands of dollars in damage was done to the homes in that area.
"There are plenty of folks who have weekend places here and the homeless seem to scope those places out," Washington said recently while driving through Flour Bluff. "We had everything from squatters to wire thieves around here this past year and I am afraid it is only getting worse."
Washington is like many in Flour Bluff. He is frustrated about the problem and like everybody else, he isn't sure what exactly can be done about it. Like a lot of people, Washington is torn between compassion and frustration.
For Washington, he feels like the city is doing what they can when it comes to dealing with the problem and that the steps that they are taking are steps in the right direction. He feels like citizens need to give the program time to work and sink in far past the soil and down to the root of the problem.
But not everybody feels that way. Their frustration seems to be driven by more vigilance than compassion. Many want results and they want them now, at whatever cost necessary. Identifying homeless camps, bombarding city leaders with e-mails and making sure that the problem is not forgotten by who the city has placed in charge of the "clean up."
While the social media posts seem to lend vigilance, the mission statement claims for peaceful action. But for many, it is not happening fast enough.
Some folks have even taken to social media advocating for "hunting" the "bums" as almost a matter of sport and the city certainly is not taking threats of such nature with a grain of salt.
When we asked about some of the comments that were circulating around on social media city Special Projects Manager J. Michelle Fletcher said that the city was aware of the comments and that they were taking them seriously.
"We are aware of the social media group," said Fletcher. "And [we] have made contact with several of the people involved."
Fletcher also indicated that the city is interested in protecting all of their citizens regardless of their social status.
"We take claims of threats and harassment of any resident, homeless or otherwise, very seriously," said Fletcher.
But who could blame the residents of places like Flour Bluff for getting mad and upset? It is obvious that crime is a problem and the overall health and safety of the community are impacted by the sanitation conditions in many of the homeless camps around the area. Almost anybody could find themselves in agreement. But the answer is not always cut and dry.
Jacob Martinez and his family live in the center of Flour Bluff's homeless problem near Waldron Park. Jacob does not join community groups and he is not overly politically active. Martinez sees the homeless on a daily basis and his concerns are as deep as anybody else's. But this time, he is letting his opinion be known.
Jacob is a keen listener and he takes in everything and for what it is worth. He's seen the comments about hunting the "bums" and he has read the comments about how Flour Bluff does not need a homeless shelter and about how the city doesn't need to place homeless services in their backyard. He has also heard about reunification programs that aim to reunite homeless citizens with their families. But Jacob has also seen and heard what the city is doing about the problem.
"Here is the deal," Jacob says while looking out at Waldron Park one evening. "Like it or not, Flour Bluff has been identified as the location in our city that will be the center point for many of the services that the homeless need."
He says that he doesn't agree nor disagree with the idea but he does know one thing--Flour Bluff is deep down a compassionate community.
"We have food pantries, firemen driving a truck around passing out toys at Christmas, churches and just wonderful people here who are willing to help those who are even in the slightest of need," Jacob says. "We have Courage, Pride and Heart and we show it all the time. I think there are more people open to change and ideas than are against it but right now the anti-homeless crowd happens to be the most vocal."
But how do the homeless feel about all of this attention? News reports about them and the constant worry about people coming up into their camps seems to have an impact on them and they are not afraid to talk about it.
One man, who calls himself "Yard Dog" says that on two occasions he has experienced a man enter his camp yelling at him to get out or pay the consequences.
"They were yelling and had guns and they were really mad," Yard Dog said. "They used to never be like that until now."
Another homelessness citizen who also lives in Flour Bluff says she has experienced similar incidents where they were cussed at and threatened by people claiming to be a citizens watch group.
Yard Dog said that on at least one occasion homeless campers told him that they found themselves in the middle of a similar situation. Men came in yelling and stomped out their campfire. When it all calmed down the homeless left only to find that the embers appeared to have burnt their camp down.
"The cops know most of us," Yard Dog says. "We know most of the cops and Hell yeah we have some bad homeless people here but not all of us are."
While politicians and community leaders work to find a solution on how to best control the problem the only thing that is certain is that the age old adage of coexisting is more important than ever. The homeless certainly need to accept the fact that there are people willing to help them and that there are resources readily available and on the flip side, we communities should not antagonize the homeless and recognize that there is a big difference between vigilance and vigilante.
And while it all comes together, the biggest thing here seems to be what everybody is preaching--time. It took time for it to get this bad and it will take time to clean it up.