Friday, October 11, 2019

Governor should address homelessness crisis for all of Texas

"Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." - Matthew 25:40
The Trumpian tropes trotted out by the Governor and local Travis County GOP figures in the Austin homelessness debates - all while President Trump and Fox News frenetically amp up anti-homeless sentiment as a national-election wedge issue - make Grits feel tired and sad. It looks to me like a lot of state leaders doubling down on the wrong side of history, as happened not so long ago when opposing gay marriage was the wedge-issue de jeur.

For all the weeping and gnashing of teeth over Austin's homelessness problems, in reality this is something faced by communities around Texas and beyond, some of which have confronted the situation more honorably than others.

In Dallas, local media say there are no solutions in sight for the local homeless problem. But the governor isn't threatening them, and the troopers he sent in to fight crime left quietly after three months.

Houston's no-sit/no-lie ordinance, implemented under Mayor Sylvester Turner, is just pushing the population around the city. But what did work were large federal grants to pay for tracking homeless and connecting them with services.

The folks dispensing much-ballyhooed homeless services in San Antonio openly admit their must-be-sober-and-take-drug-tests-to-receive-help approach leaves much to be desired and keeps many people on the streets who might be helped by a housing-first approach.

Even places like Plano, FriscoLubbockMidland, TylerLongview, NacogdochesCorpus ChristiGalveston, Sugar LandVictoria, and Montgomery County struggle with homeless problems they don't advertise but cannot ignore.

Anti-homeless activists have spuriously suggested that California cities may send their homeless to Austin. But if anybody's doing that, it's Waco, where they're forcibly clearing out homeless camps using police and Sheriff's deputies. Then they use forced labor from county jail inmates to clean up the aftermath, with local journalists tagging along for the poverty porn.

Amarillo started down that same path, but city leaders had a change of heart and issued housing vouchers to people in a local encampment instead. Abilene, similarly, has chosen to empty its homeless camps by finding their residents housing instead of chasing them out. These jurisdictions don't have to deal with the scale of big-city homeless problems, to be sure, but their example complicates what the governor, speaking from his walled compound in Austin, might reasonably portray as a "Texan" approach.

Governor Abbott appears to have singled out Austin for political purposes, tying local debates into a national GOP effort to use homelessness as a wedge issue in the culture wars and blaming this decidedly capitalist problem on political liberalism. In doing so, he trivializes a human-rights crisis faced by numerous Texas cities, including the ones still controlled by Republicans. He's missing an opportunity to exercise leadership that could demonstrate to swing voters the Texas GOP can govern as well as it campaigns.

Perhaps what jumped out to Grits most in Abbott's letter was the threat to use "quarantines" to ban the homeless from certain quadrants. Texas' quarantine laws haven't been used since the Ann Richards administration, and that time it was also a politicized abuse of power. She disingenuously declared a quarantine to keep away the press in the aftermath of the Branch Davidian catastrophe in Waco, which incidentally is the only known use of quarantine authority by a US governor in the last century. Richards' quarantine was done in secret, but Gov. Abbott has now openly threatened to use this same authority to coerce a local city council to reinstate a repealed ordinance. Really?

As Sir Thomas More asked of his accusers, "when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, ... the laws all being flat?"

Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared that he took Gov. Abbott's entreaties as evidence that state government wants to "help" - a reaction that could only be taken as tongue in cheek. But what if Gov. Abbott did want to help solve homelessness?

For starters, the governor could begin to prioritize grants for housing, directing available funds for that purpose and working with Texas' congressional delegation to champion the cause of more federal housing grants from HUD. But as Texas Monthly's Christopher Hooks lamented:
There’s a notable and telling omission among the list of agencies Abbott has said will “help” Austin with its problems: the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the state agency that helps build affordable housing. There’s been no real effort from state government to actually aid the city here, just a demand that they “fix” things.
He could work with legislators heading into the 2021 legislative session to develop funding packages for housing, mental-health services and prisoner reentry to help mitigate the causes of the problem. The state could fund urban "rest stops" like those on the side of the highway where homeless folks could shower and use the restroom. The governor could use his bully pulpit and personal appearances to fundraise for housing programs like Austin's Community First (at least, in between campaign fundraising for a race that's three years out).

That's what state-government leadership would look like on this issue. What we're seeing, everyone will notice, looks very different.


Gadfly said...

A simply excellent roundup of the statewide current set of affairs plus Abbott's politicization. I'm adding this to Texas Progressives' next wrangle.

Unknown said...

Ggood article. I l think he is not interested in "helping" to solve the homelessness problem. It would not be looked upon with approval by his own base. I was an apellate lawyer during the years that he was a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas. I knew he was conservative but nothing like the extent he is now. He seemed more like a centrist then. Now he seems more like just a mini-me of Trump. Very disappointing.

Steven Michael Seys said...

Since addiction is a key element in the homeless crisis, I would better serve the community to address the issue of addiction hand-in-hand with the issue of homelessness. Destigmatize addiction, offer no-questions addiction relief treatments, teach job skills and offer temporary shelter for homeless addicts is the best course of action for that facet of the homeless problem. The other side of the problem is mental illness. And that can be addressed in the same way.

Down on the Corner said...

Excellent analysis, although the deeper causes and solutions of homelessness are likely to be too multi-factorial for those who think the problem is black-and-white simple. The motto there seems to be, "Throw the bums out!" That's a far cry from Matthew 25. I wonder what all the people who want to bring "Christian values" back to our society think those Christian values really are. Matthew 25 is a good value for starters.

Oil Lease said...

We can talk it to death but the main part is there are so few jobs. I know there are drug problems but a great number of people who are having drug problems would rather work. The sheer hopelessness contributes greatly to the unemployed plus too many laws that land people in jail.

When I was a teen, we could legally do countless things that are now a crime. There are so many "crimes" on the books it's obviously to benefit the Just Us system.

Got my hunting license the other day and was told by the guy taking care of them that I could now legally hunt hogs and coyotes with my regular license. Huh? When were those laws that didn't allow you to do that passed? I've been doing it all my life without a hunting license. He didn't mention bobcats, raccoons, possums, skunks or mountain lions. If I see 3 coyotes trying to kill one of my cats, am I going to peruse my hunting license first? Go to hell TPWD.

And this year it's changed to have 4 separate licenses according to what you want to hunt. The mulcting of the average person for the benefit of govt. Next they'll break it up into male and female for all the game it's not obvious. I shot a big old doe one year and later found it didn't even have nubs but was a buck. It would have been a great boon for the state to take my gun, my pickup and everything else they could grab, throw some bad charge at me because that deer showed no evidence of being a buck from 300 yards away. I didn't have a buck tag left, just one doe tag.

disabled veteran said...

The Governor does NOT have executive order authority. Perry found that out with the guardisill drug that he wanted to force all girls in Texas to take. Public lands, Public thoroughfares, etc. are public property held by the state in trust for the entire public not just a few.

The issues of safety, hygiene, sanitation, drugs, etcc. are real concerns and should be addressed by the City and all of the Churches and charities. The current approach violates the civil authorities oaths as it violates the Organic Laws (all 5 of them). Not to mention removes assets from things that are already stressed. Bring the community together to include those people that you are trying to "help".

We have a very strong charitable spirit in Texas. Use it for its intended purpose: help ALL of God's children not just the "chosen few". Think before you do.

Anonymous said...

Oil lease..I respectfully disagree about there being so few jobs comment you made. Personally, I came from a very small town in rural West Virginia where the economy and job outlook was so much worse than it is here in Texas. Even then, if someone truly wants to work they can find a job. Where there is a will there is a way. I do believe that most people with a drug addiction also has some form of mental illness. I also speak from experience in that I have family members suffering from drug addicrion and mental illness. When you couple those two things together, then their will to want a job is practically nonexistent. When you are deep in the pit of depression, drug addicrion and mentally illness then the fartheat thing from your mind is going out and looking for a job. It is a vicious cycle, but one that I have seen family and friends living in.

Anonymous said...

The best way for Texas to handle the homeless is to provide bus tickets to California. The worst way is for the government to provide any shelter or programs. Since the Lyndon Johnson administration the government has spent billions on the problem and it has only gotten worse.

Anonymous said...

There's that charitable spirit 9:46 was talking about

Anonymous said...

Texasyankee...what an idiot