Sunday, July 17, 2011

Just send 'em down the road

Who'da thought there might be homeless people living in and around downtown Houston? I mean, that's just got to be a complete and total shock to anyone and everyone. That, and trash, noise and the other assorted sins of the inner city. What a horrid awakening for anyone from the suburbs or the wealthy enclaves within the city limits.

Well, the folks who paid a big ass chunk of change to move into lofts on the east end of downtown (not the, shall we say, nicest part of town) are now having to deal with the realities of urban life. I'm sure it was just an oversight of the real estate agent not to mention these things we all take for granted to the oblivious yuppies looking for the "next big thing."

Residents in East Downtown (across the freeway from the ballpark) must have been taken aback when they found out just how gritty their (supposed) yuppie wonderland was. They've banded together, however, to "take back" their neighborhood (from the people who were there long before they left the land of three-car garages). The residents have asked the city to ban homeless folks from sitting or sleeping on the sidewalks in a 220 acre area.

Councilman James Rodriguez is spearheading the effort to expand the city's "civility code" to the neighborhood in hopes of attracting new developers (and forcing the homeless to go to someone else's neighborhood -- most likely where no one has enough money to make themselves noticeable to local politicians). Mr. Rodriguez says local churches and charities who provide food for the homeless are to blame for the situation.

Under the "civility code," folks who set up camp in a neighborhood and don't leave when demanded requested by police could face fines of up to $200 - or, more likely, time in the city jail because they don't have the money to hire an attorney or pay the fine).

Laws such as these seek to criminalize the poor because they are, after all, poor. How about we look to address the real problems underlying homelessness in this country? We need to find a way to provide access to medical services, including mental health care, for the poor. We need to figure out how to provide these men and women with a source of income and a bed to sleep in. We need to address structural unemployment in this country.

The City of Houston and Harris County gladly pony up money to help billionaires build private playhouses for their sports franchises. The city will gladly declare eminent domain over property whose owners won't sell for the price developers are offering. As a nation we seem to have no problem burning billions of dollars a year to send young Americans to their deaths to satisfy the ego of whomever sits in the White House. We seem to have no problem criminalizing more and more types of behavior and putting more and more people under the supervision of the courts.

And, instead of trying to find a solution to a problem, we just want to pack it up and send it down the road a bit so someone else can be bothered.

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