The following Letter to the Editor was submitted for publication by Jerri Glover
I write this opinion piece knowing full well that it will draw the ire of some, support from others and has the potential to hurt the feelings of people I have worked with and appreciate. It is important enough to me that I am willing to risk negative reactions from a few.
We have a problem in Amarillo, Texas and the United States. The number of homeless continue to rise across the nation. It is alarming. Some are Veterans. Some or mentally ill. Some suffer from an addiction disorder. Some are former professionals who lost their job unexpectedly during the last recession and housing bubble and just have not been able to recover financially. Some are domestic abuse survivor. Some either experienced or had a loved one experience a medical emergency that drained their resources and put them in bankruptcy. The stories are all different, but all result in fellow humans sleeping in the streets, in tents, in doorways, on benches—wherever they can find a place for a minutes peace to sleep. Their bellies remain empty. The very idea of medical care and medications are a foreign concept. Their basic needs aren’t met. They don’t have the opportunity to bathe or have personal hygiene needs met. I myself have witnessed the cause of homelessness up close and personal as someone I love deeply was homeless for a period due to an addiction disorder. I am not unempathetic to the plight of these people and the need for a solution to house them, provide them safety and care for them. I participated in the homeless conversation in Northern California and I have participated here. I have volunteered, donated food, personal need items, clothing and money—anything I could spare to help as many as I could.
However, what I continue to see are temporary solutions where there need to be long-term plans and arrangements made for our homeless fellow humans. Currently I am witnessing a few who continue to protest on Amarillo City Property. They are cited for obstructing the entry way with their tents. They are cited for using City electricity to power sleep apnea devices. The are cited for camping on public property for longer than the code allows. The property owners and organizers of a recent temporary solution have been sited for not complying with City code and ordinances. These have resulted in fines, attorney’s fees, bail, etc. While I applaud the efforts of people who stand up and out for what they believe, I am a bit dismayed at the amount of time, attention and financial resources this is all taking to manage when we need to be focusing on a permanent solution to the problem. They are within their right to protest, hand out fliers, etc. However, it appears to be a drain of already valuable resources that are in high demand and short supply for this issue.
I have had personal conversations with some regarding potential steps to gain ground on the issues and re-open dialogue with the City. Others have have been given them information on how to assemble a legal petition to be submitted to the City to change the things they believe are the problem. However, I have seen no evidence that this advice and assistance has been given any serious consideration. We continue to chase dumpster fires and put bandages on the gaping wounds where sepsis and decay are setting in. This is an issue that requires serious conversation with viable plans. Viable plans include a step-by-step plan toward a permanent solution as well as a financial plan to back it. That is no where to be found. We have a group of 34 organizations that meets monthly to talk about the problem and what they are all doing to try to help. It is time for them, you, me, us to all come together and work toward the permanent solution. Not to say we should stop feeding, providing temporary shelter and solutions, etc. However, this is not the PERMANENT SOLUTION required to solve this problem.
Do I have ideas on how this could be accomplished? Absolutely. I have shared them with some. If you are interested, I am happy to have a conversation with you as well. I am open to honest, open conversations. However, I cannot support those who continue draw valuable resources doing things they know are going to end them in situations that could be avoided. There are ways to tell the story, participate in the conversation and work toward a solution AND not soak up resources that should be used to help those you claim to be fighting for.
I know this is long winded an if you have read to this point, I appreciate your time and attention. I hope that we as a community can come together and lead the way to solving the problem in Amarillo and provide a model for others in the U.S. to follow.