HOUSTON – Until three months ago, Rosenaldo Garcia lived in a homeless camp in southwest Houston. With the help of several agencies, he is now off the streets. Garcia said, "I've always been homeless and I always believed I'd be homeless. And the last couple of months have been life-changing."
Garcia was homeless at 14 and stayed that way for the next forty years. Now he has his own apartment. He said, "I'm still adapting. I'm still trying to retrain the way I think a lot of the things. Now I have a new place of my own and a new outlook on things. And I think the first time in my life, I really am excited! I'm overwhelmed."
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he wanted to see the approximately 1,050 homeless who live in the streets follow in Garcia’s footsteps. Mayor Turner said, "It is not good for them. And it is not good for our city."
Turner announced a plan Thursday to create more housing through local organizations and even to create camps around the city. He said, "The city is pursuing creation of one or more secure and professionally managed covered outdoor spaces with restroom facilities for up to 75 individuals could stay temporarily."
Turner said, “In this city, we are not going to abandon our most vulnerable. The goal is to get as many people as possible into permanent housing or shelters, but even with all of the assistance being offered, there will still be people who choose to stay on the streets.
It would be wrong to tell these people they cannot be here or there without providing a suitable alternative. I am inviting the community and City Council to help identify locations in their districts we can use as temporary outdoor shelters and for feeding the hungry.”
Turner also wanted an ordinance that would make it illegal to block streets by panhandling and instead encourage people to give money to service providers. He said he also hopes the Houston City Council will pass an ordinance outlawing the use of tents on public property. He also said the Houston Police Department would help move and eliminate current encampments.
He said the Texas Department of Transportation would help give the city access to areas under freeways that can be used for parking and economic development. Turner said, "It is simply not acceptable for people to live on the streets."
Turner encouraged state lawmakers to increase funding to help the mentally ill. He estimated that six years ago, Houston had a homeless population of more than 8,500.
Today, he estimates the number is about 36,000 with a third of those people living on the streets and not in shelters.