The Pokey Finger of God

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House-free, not Homeless

February 29th, 2008 · No Comments · culture

It seems inappropriate for me to blog my armchair ideas about homeless people, because I don’t know anything about homeless people. I’ve always lived and worked in enclosed structures with utilities, and I rarely consider abandoning it all to sleep under a bridge. It’s not a particular area of study or volunteerism for me, so I consider myself to be among the greater number of citizenry who see unemployed, homeless people and feel compassion without knowing how to express that compassion “correctly”.

What gets me started is realizing that I was able to spot about 3 hobo camps within a few miles of my house — about two dozen distinct tents in all — in about 10 minutes with Google Earth. I have a pretty good clue how old the pictures on Google Earth are, so I wouldn’t expect to find the exact same person in the exact same spot, but I would certainly expect to find someone there. These are not people who are willing to pay outrageous rents or lock themselves into long-term mortgages, so does one help such folks by making it easier or better to camp rather than live in a house? What if such help dramatically increased the numbers of people camping in your area?

My favorite hiking area near my house has only been a city park since ’84. The neighborhood around it was built in the early ’60s, and before that, the whole place was just this little dairy farm between St. Ed’s and Post Oak Road. When the Sherwood Oaks neighborhood was built behind swanky Travis Heights, the unimproved forestland around the uneven creek bank was left untouched, save a cut-through for Burleson Road, and sold to home-buyers as a giant natural park. However, within five years of the first houses going up, the “park” was notorious for the established hobo camps within.

The neighborhood group worked through the Seventies to clear and clean up he park, but the hobos would not be dissuaded. Finally, the city was given the land, which was made into the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve. An astounding variety of native species of flora and fauna lurk within its 30 acres, as well as quite a few invasive species, such as modern homo sapiens sapiens. I know the location of three ‘usual’ campsites in this park (none of which are visible with Google Earth), and have encountered ‘guests’ on a few occasions.

I could expect that these incursions may also accompany some petty larceny and misdemeanors, but I can’t assume that just because someone is camping that they would want to endanger their position there. It’s probably extremely difficult to get a job when you live in a park, so my anticipation for economic engagement by these fellows is low. Whatever my feelings may be, fear of theft and violence from transient campers was the primary motivation for the city to take control over this and several other otherwise unimproved parcels of property, converting them into ‘nature preserves’ and putting curfews on them. The city does go through and periodically clean most of these out, but there are still quite a few that appear to be long term setups.

In the sense that these campers and squatters aren’t paying property taxes or rent or mortgage payments, their actions constitute theft. However, in the sense that they are occupying unimproved land with no services, it is difficult to assign an owner to whom payment would be owed. Frankly, I don’t understand why there isn’t more land set aside for long-term, primitive camping. If utility, health, and financial services were made available for them, I have no doubt that many would take advantage of these, thus assisting each to be productive contributors to the civic economy.

So is it helping the homeless if you don’t actually do anything to directly house them? Are you encouraging homelessness by providing civic services to them? How would you feel if more of your neighbors didn’t live in houses than did?

This is one of the top twenty most expensive cities in this country in which to live. It isn’t a big stretch to imagine a number of scenarios where camping is preferable to the alternatives. Homelessness isn’t something that people generally aspire to, but when folks find themselves in such a state is when they really need city services to stay human and even pull themselves out. Any that may game such a system are simply indicative of a generalized need for these services (utility, health, financial) to be provided to everyone.

Some really clever bastard is going to figure out how to organize the bottom 25% of those on the economic scale, and the rest of us are going to become just so much asphalt filling.

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