Last week, the Alvin City Council hosted its second work session on a proposed “tent-city ordinance.” The proposed legislation came about after the Archangels of Texas opened a facility to house the homeless. While the intent was to house them inside, they ended up living outdoors in tents.
After the council began discussing the ordinance, the Archangels closed the facility despite already meeting the majority of the requirements.
When the work session was held last week, the tent city that led to consideration of the rules in the first place was no longer in existence.
That led to one council member asking flat out if the city could then just ban any future tent cities. The question wasn’t the first time Alvin lawmakers have discussed the idea of banning the homeless.
What’s worrying to me is how popular that idea is — not just in Alvin, but it definitely resides among many here.
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing — communities cannot ban homeless. It’s been tried and turns out you can’t legally do it. Communities can set rules such as the tent city ordinance or closing times at city parks, but simply outlawing the homeless is not allowed.
Secondly, there really is no reason a city would want to ban the homeless. They are people and as a result, they deserve a little compassion and decency.
In Alvin, no matter what you hear, homelessness is not a big community problem. Are there homeless? Of course.
But the vast majority do what almost all homeless people do anywhere. They hide in plain sight. I’ve lived in Alvin for 18 months, and I drive around the city every day. But I can’t tell you where the homeless people live.
Occasionally you will see one or two on a street corner asking for money, but that’s relatively rare and those that do are not aggressive or problematic from what I’ve seen or heard.
From what I’ve seen in Alvin and the other communities I’ve lived, most of the homeless want just a few things. They want to be mostly left alone, they want to be treated with dignity and they occasionally want help.
Believe it or not, many homeless are that way because they want to be. That is certainly not the case for all, but for many it is a choice. Some have mental health issues, some certainly have problems with drugs and alcohol.
But there are also some who are homeless because of bad luck, situations they couldn’t control. In our area, maybe Hurricane Harvey destroyed their home and left them without a place to live. Maybe someone lost their job and was unable to keep up with the rent. Maybe a child got sick and mom and dad couldn’t keep up with the medical bills.
And maybe, just maybe, they need someone to care enough to help them get back on their feet. When someone is homeless, regardless of the reason, it makes it very difficult to get a job, secure an apartment, just get a chance.
Some of the best organizations that help the homeless do the little things — clean them up, get them a pair of nice clothes for interviews, help them get things like birth certificates and state ID. With that, many can go back to work. They can rent an apartment and live their lives.
But first they need a chance.
And telling them they aren’t welcome in your town does nothing for them. If members of the Alvin City Council want to really make a difference in the community, maybe instead of trying to ban the homeless, they should support groups like Archangels of Texas that are working to turn the homeless into employed people who can take care of themselves.