Two Texas cities - Fort Worth and Austin - are taking decidedly different approaches to the problem. In Fort Worth they're pursuing long-term strategies. Remarks J.R. Labbe at the Startlegram:
Fort Worth, which is "home" to about 80 percent of the county’s homeless population, has a realistic plan for dramatically decreasing the number of the chronically homeless within a decade.
"Directions Home" is not pie-in-the-sky. It’s not, as naysayers and folks with hearts the size of chickpeas continually complain in anonymous voicemail messages on my office phone every time I write about this topic, a waste of time, money and energy.
Major urban cities across the United States have demonstrated that it’s possible after they developed and adopted 10-year plans based on providing permanent supportive housing — a place to live that comes with the health and social services needed for people to regain their dignity and their purpose.
It also costs less than the way most communities approach the challenges — perpetuating lives of misery by giving "those people" free meals and clothing, but not the security and services necessary get off the streets permanently. This approach results in everyone paying the costs of expensive emergency response, medical bills and, too often, jail time.
Retail giant Walmart and the United Way are backing the Fort Worth project with charitable donations, but:
In Austin, by contrast, which enjoys the stereotype if not always the reality of being a much more liberal city than Fort Worth, city leaders prefer to throw good money after bad pursuing short-term aesthetic goals instead of long-term economic ones. The Daily Texan reported:
Now the ball bounces into the Fort Worth City Council’s court. On Tuesday, it begins the hard task of adopting a 2008-09 budget. Money’s tight this year, and the council has tough decisions ahead. But Moncrief left little doubt during Tuesday’s celebration of the plan’s adoption, which featured the nation’s homelessness czar Philip Mangano as the keynote speaker, that he intends to push his council colleagues to approve the $3 million earmarked for the first year of the 10-year plan.
The Downtown Area Command will use about $150,000 in overtime funds to employ 24 additional officers per week until the end of September as part of the new Downtown Quality of Life Enhancement Initiative, said APD Commander Chris Noble. ...Austin may be a "liberal" town considering only a few hot button culture war questions, but when it comes to aiming the community's criminal justice machinery at harassing the least among us, no city in Texas has Austin beat. If you're homeless and are sitting on the sidewalk or sleeping in a public place, after all, it could well be because you have no place else to sit or sleep. "Out of sight, out of mind" is the goal of Austin's policies, while Fort Worth actually seeks to improve the situation for the long-term, not just waste taxpayers' money on a short-term publicity stunt.
"[The initiative is] not about taking care of people; it's not protecting their rights," [Debbie Russell of the ACLU] said. "It's simply about cleaning up the streets and making downtown more valuable for incoming residents to move in and to drive up the prices so that everybody is priced out."
During the first three days of the initiative, Noble said there had been 80 arrests made up of misdemeanor citations and custody arrests. Among the arrests and citations were six for drug paraphernalia, one for public intoxication, five for sleeping in a public place and 14 for sitting on the sidewalk.
Especially considering a significant proportion of homeless people who routinely commit petty crimes are mentally ill, simply banishing the problem won't resolve it. Indeed, given federal disability protections the approach may even have straight-up civil rights implications. More important than liability, though, the strategy won't solve the problem. More arrests and tickets can't reduce homelessness, but actual homes can - particularly when coupled with help finding a job and case management to address chronic physical and mental health problems. That's why IMO Fort Worth's approach is more likely to succeed.
The Directions Home initiative in Fort Worth began with a $125,000 corporate donation. By contrast, the $150K for police overtime in Austin will be frittered away in a couple of months with nothing to show for it but an overcrowded jail full of petty misdemeanants. Not only that, the extra spending comes at a time when the city is cutting library services and raising garbage fees to pay for extra police raises. That makes little sense.
In Fort Worth they're making an investment in solutions, while Austin's policy prioritizes appearances over substance. But hey, at least Austin has the highest paid cops in the nation to go out and harass folks for sitting on the sidewalk - that's gotta count for something, right?