AUTHOR: RANDA MORRIS | MARCH 29, 2015
According to officials in Fort Worth, Texas, the way out of homelessness is having your temporary shelter destroyed.
In a video uploaded to YouTube by startelegramvideo on March 27, Amy Bernoski Ebnet, a US Army veteran and president of a newly formed Texas nonprofit called Rita’s Hope, provided insight into the impending destruction of a homeless encampment in Forth Worth. Ebnet said she’d been trying to work with city officials to keep them from razing the 80 person homeless encampment, located in a wooded area in Tarrant County. But city officials were not willing to deviate from their plans to destroy the encampment.
“What is going to happen on March 28, of moving the property these individuals have and putting it in dumpsters and then giving them nowhere to go, is not a solution to homelessness. That just continues to move a problem.”
Ebnet warned, in a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“And when I say moving them, I don’t mean relocating them. I mean knocking over their stuff and having them go find somewhere else to live.
“We are pushing these folks toward the services and the lifestyle that will break the chains that will get them out of homelessness.”
Bennett, who is obviously not an expert in working with the homeless, added that (at least in his mind), demolishing the camp is “managing” the problem, not moving it.
The Fort Worth code enforcement officer claims that he’s witnessed illegal activity at the encampment, and put forth the idea that there’s all kinds of bad stuff going on, from prostitution to drug use. He even claims to have witnessed a young girl selling sex in the camp.
Criminal activity like prostitution or sex with minors is a matter for the police, so it seems that if Bennett actually witnessed this activity, as a public official it would have been his duty to call the police. Yet, Bennett didn’t mention any reports of police being called to the camp to investigate “a young girl selling sex” there.
Still, we know that everything public officials say is the God’s truth, and they’d never make false accusations, in order to promote an agenda based on their own prejudicial views about the homeless.
Here’s the video, published earlier this week on youtube, which features both Ebnet and Bennett:
The city brought in heavy equipment and began razing the camp on Saturday.
In spite of Bennett’s claims that the move will push people toward help and services, the residents of Fort Worth’s tent city began moving their belongings to another homeless encampment, located about 10 miles away, prior to the city’s razing of the camp.
According to Bennett, the city breaks up between 100 and 120 homeless encampments each year, a fact which demonstrates that the tactic of destroying temporary shelters does nothing to address the issue of homelessness. It just forces people to migrate to another area, at least until officials come along and raze that location, as well.
Bennett’s statements also don’t hold up, in light of the fact that Fort Worth has just three privately run homeless shelters, all of which are consistently full. Many people living in homeless encampments cite shelter policies, some of which only allow people to stay for a few days, others which force family members to separate from one another, as reasons for choosing to camp.
In order to “push people toward help and services,” help and services would need to be both available and accessible to the people who need them. The reality is they are not.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, about 5200 people become homeless in Tarrant County every year. Out of those, 1500 are children, 1200 are domestic violence victims, 1000 suffer from mental illness, 520 are veterans, and 300 are people with substance abuse problems.
The city’s homeless shelters are all privately run. While these “nonprofits” bring in an estimated $190 million a year in grants and donations, only about $36 million of that is actually spent on homeless specific issues.
Here’s a video showing what ‘help and services’ looks like in Fort Worth’s shelter district of East Lancaster, also courtesy ofstartelegramvideo, on YouTube:
When comparing the kind of “help and services” people can expect to receive in Fort Worth’s designated homeless district, to what they can find on their own in an encampment, the question is, what is the real difference? Many people say they feel safer in an encampment, and they don’t have to worry about lice or bed bugs, all too common problems in the city’s already overcrowded homeless shelters.
Compare the way Fort Worth officials have chosen to address homelessness, to the way homelessness has been addressed in the state of Utah. While Fort Worth has left it up to private organizations, which often seek to impose religion and religious codes on the people they claim to serve, the state of Utah has taken an entirely different approach, and it’s working.
Between 2005 and 2014, the state of Utah reduced its homeless population by 78 percent, and it is on track to entirely eliminate it, by the end of this year. In order to do that, the state provided unconditional help to the homeless. Contrary to right wing narratives, this wasn’t done by handing the problem over to private charities or by forcing Jesus down the throats of those who need help.
Elsewhere in Texas, city officials have adopted a housing first model, also with positive results. Dallas is one city that has taken an initiative to end homelessness by adopting policies that allow homeless people to be placed in housing, without attempting to force them to meet any unrealistic criteria, in order to obtain services.
While it’s estimated that every homeless person that is living on the streets costs taxpayers about $20,000 per year, permanent housing solutions cost just $8,000, per person, per year, according to Gordon Walker, head of Housing and Development in Utah. Once an individual has stable housing, they become better able to focus on other chronic issues, like substance abuse, alcoholism or getting treatment for mental and physical health problems.
This short documentary compares the approach of Lubbock, Texas officials to that of the city of Dallas, when it comes to addressing the needs of the homeless community.
Fort Worth officials haven’t disclosed the cost associated with demolishing homeless encampments. It’s clear that, in spite of Bennett’s statements, the 80 or so people living in the homeless encampment that is being razed this weekend have no better options than to migrate to another encampment.
As a code enforcement officer, Bennett’s expertise and experience is clearly not in the area of determining the needs of the city’s homeless population. Demolishing the only safe shelter these people currently have is not ‘helping them,’ as he contends.
It’s long past time for the city of Fort Worth to give up the idea of policing and criminalizing homelessness, and adopt a more humane and compassionate approach to the issue.
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