The official student newspaper at the University of Houston-Clear Lake

EDITORIAL: Houston’s homeless: ways to help

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Cartoon by Francisco Vazquez
Cartoon by Francisco Vazquez/The Signal

Houston is the largest city in Texas. The website, houstontx.gov, reports that the city of Houston makes up 2.2 million of the state’s population. The website for the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that, as of Jan. 29, 2013, the homeless make up 6,359 of Houston/Harris County’s population.

The homeless statistics do not include: persons incarcerated in jail or penitentiary, persons in substance abuse treatment facilities, wards of the state CPS, living with a family member or friend, and persons in hospital beds or waiting rooms.

HUD specializes in creating strong communities free from discrimination. Sadly, the homeless population goes largely unnoticed. In fact, HUD designated Houston one in nine priority cities in need of funding for the homeless.

When traveling to certain areas of Houston, the downtown area to be specific, witnessing a large amount of our city’s population living in horrible conditions is not out of the ordinary.

How people become homeless is hard to answer. Some have brought this kind of living upon themselves with bad choices. Some come from impoverished backgrounds with a history of chronic homelessness. Many have mental health issues. Others have lost jobs and then their homes. With a weak economy and high unemployment rate, many are unable to find jobs. There are also teen runaways, victims of domestic violence, a lack of affordable housing for minimum wage workers, etc.

HUD.gov states that one in five of the homeless population is identified as chronically homeless. One in four have mental health issues. One in seven is a veteran. Almost one in three has substance abuse problems. Whatever the reason behind the unfortunate living conditions of the homeless, the main concern and issue is: what is the best way to actually help the homeless?

This is a broad question and there is no right or wrong answer because, ultimately, there are an infinite number of ways to help.

One of the most controversial ways to help a homeless person is by offering him or her money. Giving a homeless person money gives him or her the opportunity to purchase something he or she wants versus something he or she needs.

Although there is a legitimate need to purchase items such as hygiene products or food, there is also a concern that the money will be used for alcohol or drugs. That is why many people prefer to hand out food rather than money.

However, Houston’s City Council passed an ordinance April 4, 2012, that bans serving charitable meals for more than five people on public or private properties without permission from property owners.The fine for violating this law is $500, which is enough to make people think twice before handing someone who looks hungry a burger and fries. An alternative to this could be gift cards. Giving the homeless gift cards to fast-food restaurants is another possible way to help.

Donating or volunteering to help the homeless through an organization is yet another option. There are many nonprofit organizations, such as the Star of Hope, dedicated to helping the homeless. There are many ways to volunteer and/or donate to those organizations. Star of Hope focuses on meeting the needs of homeless men, women and children by empowering them. This organization offers developmental classes such as, spirit and life-skill classes, alcohol and drug education, guidance, support and much more.

Another organization dedicated to assisting women, children and men exposed to sexual assault, domestic violence or homelessness is The Bridge Over Troubled Waters. This organization’s mission is to build stronger homes for families by establishing healthy relationships. The organization employs professionals trained in communication tactics.

The Boys and Girls Harbor is a home for children who need different homes due to neglect and abuse. Hotlines, such as National Runaway Hotline and 24hr Hotline, also provide services for youth counseling and information about local shelters. Other ways to volunteer and donate include charitable food service groups that help the homeless eat better quality meals and connect to service providers. The website houstontx.gov/health/charitable lists a number of food service groups.

With all the different ways to help, there are still questions that make people hesitate. When one donates money to an organization, how does he or she know that the money is being used in the right ways? How far does that money really go? Is the organization or charity using it to help feed, clothe and shelter the homeless, or is the organization or charity using the amount of money on administrative costs? By giving a homeless person a handout, am I helping or enabling?

The personality of an individual and the kind of life that she or he lives determines his or her outlook on helping the homeless. People all find solace in different ways. No matter what personal stance an individual has on the issue, choosing to help in some way is more beneficial than not.

To think about what life would be like without clothes, food, shelter or hygiene products is unimaginable. Although it is important to use common sense when encountering strangers, identifying with a homeless person as a real human being behind the external image will bring gratification to the person giving as well as give the homeless a sense of respect.

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