Those that know me know that I spend a lot of time with the homeless community in our city, Houston, TX. The photos you see here are of the place where the majority of that time is spent; Hermann Park, Houston, TX. Some of you reading this have walked these pathways on more than on occasion. Thousands of people visit the park each and every week; families, school groups, employees from local businesses and people simply seeking a peaceful moment. The park is beautiful and the shade trees somehow keep it somewhat cool on a hot summer day.
In the two photos here, alone, I can say there are at least 15-20 homeless persons either seen or in the shadows. They are here every day and only a small portion of the actual number that reside in this park. It’s their home. They, for the most part, bother no one. Up until a couple of months ago times were getting harder on these people than usual. The police presence was growing stronger. These men and women were getting tickets for simply sitting at a picnic table reading a bible….camping in the park. The same citations were given if you were to sit on a park bench with a backpack, the first question asked by an officer…’are you homeless?’ Men were getting citations for taking food from a trash can. Teachers with visiting school groups were being asked to stop placing childrens’ left over lunches in the receptacles so the ‘vagrants’ will stop going through them.
As this effort grew more and more prevalent, I started to communicate with the employees of the park and the local police. You see, these guys that they constantly harassed were bothering no one. On the opposite side of the park, however, near the hospitals was a different story. There are drugs. There are dealers. There is true danger in a very small area. The question was raised of; How can you spend so much time bothering those that bother no one when you have an element just steps away that truly endangers patrons of the park?
For a very short time it appeared that, maybe, things may get better. Rather than focus on what may help, however, the Conservancy began placing calls to the larger local non-profits. The question was not one of how can we help these people but how can we get rid of them.
When you look at these photos, I want you to notice the small concrete embankments and benches in the photos. At the end of many of these places is an electrical outlet. Many people in our homeless community do have phones. Some of them are free from local programs and some are paid for by odd jobs and/or panhandling. Regardless of how they get them, these phones are their connection to the outside world. It is how they stay in touch with family. It is how they communicate with friends. In many cases it is how they contact ME when they may need something.
So now the park has turned off the power to the outlets that line these pathways. Maybe, if we cut the power, the vagrants will leave…right? Maybe if we make it a little more uncomfortable then we won’t have a problem.
It is always the little things that break people. The smallest things that build up and drive people further down. This single, small item is no different. If there is one thing I know for sure it is this; When those in our homeless community feel loved and when they have a little hope, they are happier, even in the conditions they live in. Happy people generally cause no problems. When you take away the love, however, and when you take away the hope….what do you expect to happen?
I have watched, over the past 2 to 4 weeks, this community that I visit so often go to shambles. The little things drive people mad. A community that, at one time, stuck together is now fighting amongst themselves and we have to recognize what the cause is.
When love and support is taken away from someone who is hurting then we must expect them to lash out. We must expect an alcoholic to dive deeper into his or her addiction. We must expect a person overcoming issues with anger to falter in their journey.
We must stop expecting that our local municipalities will ‘take care’ of our local poor and homeless communities. Their definition of ‘taking care’ and ours are two entirely different things. In places like our city parks, ESPECIALLY these places, WE should have a say in how they operate. They are here for us right? The only way that happens, however, is if we have a voice. We all have one but fail to use them when it really matters.
So how do we change things? How do we stop it?
We cannot and will not end homelessness. That is a fact that even Scriptures give us. We CAN, however, end how they are treated.
If you visit this park, I challenge you to stop and ask for Holly, Kevin, Eli, Norris, Larry….Just stop and talk to someone. They will tell you all of what I have said and so much more. They will probably also give you a hug and a handshake in thanks for speaking with them. If you are a visitor of this park on any occasion, why not speak up to the park conservancy or the Miller Outdoor Theater.
As much as it hurts me to say it, they are part of the problem rather than the solution but this CAN change.
I spend a lot of time in this park and much of that is spent with some of you, my clients. We have done numerous photo sessions here and will do many more with some of you who might hire me in the future. I often tell new clients when we arrive that we will most likely be approached my a few homeless gentlemen and we may stop and say hello. These are my friends. They are my family. Don't fear them. Any one of us could end up in this place with one wrong turn in our lives.
I love you all ..... Jason