Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Give me a $1,184 inch...and I'll take me a mile

I recently attended a SafeGrowth training with some engaged folks in Houston, Texas. Groups from the community, police, and community development organizations spent time learning basic SafeGrowth tactics and choosing a local area to see how they work in real life.

(SIDE NOTE: Houston participants: Your June 30 assignment is on the link Risk Assessment Descriptions at the right side of this page...don't forget ;-)

Prior to the workshop I spent time visiting the various areas in the city. I was impressed by the newly gentrified mid-town area with walkable streets and restaurants. I was also impressed by the world-famous NASA Houston Space Center. But I was also struck by the profusion of interstate highways, cement overpasses and one-way streets downtown. Above all else, this is a car city.

I looked into the Houston car world. In the report Houston Freeways: A 5 Year Retrospective I learned some interesting facts.read Freeway Report

* The Texas department of transportation for the Houston area spends hundreds of millions to build and maintain the freeway system (to be fair, I doubt it is any different than other cities like Los Angeles).

* The Katy Freeway project alone, launched in 2006 after much delay, had a projected cost of $2.67 Billion (yes, that is billion with a "B").

* The downtown connector project linking the Hardy Toll road into downtown Houston is estimated at $75 million per mile. That's $14,204 per foot or $1,184 per inch.

I don't mean to pick on the transportation planners (ok, maybe just a bit). After all, there is a light rail line with some fabulously designed stations in the downtown. Some of the streetscaping, waterfeatures, and modern trains were among the most attractive anywhere.

But with all the freeways and overpasses I wondered about something that plagues every city - the homeless!

Studies I found suggested there were between 14,000 and 30,000 homeless people in Houston (depending on what study you read). There were homeless people on practically every street I walked downtown. True, they are certainly not as prolific in the Houston financial or theatre district as they are in other cities. But I'm told that is because they have moved under the same freeway overpasses on which so much money is invested.

I'm certain there are social services in Houston for those homeless as there are in every city. And we all know the causes of homelessness are complex and abundant - lack of affordable housing, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, substance abuse, domestic and sexual violence, family problems are a few. They are not easy to solve in Houston or anywhere.

But is it unreasonable to at least ask a basic question:

If every highway inch gets $1,184, what does it cost to house, feed, and provide social, emotional, and job related training to a homeless person?

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Steven Woolrich said...

Homeless and vulnerable people are certainly cause for concern throughout North America and around the world. It's an issue that merits our attention and there are many communities attempting to address the needs of these people.

As we continue to deal with the recession and the impact this is having on everyone we need to remember that helping the homeless needs to remain a priority. These folks are part of the fabric that make up our neighborhoods and communities. In many cases they just need a hand up, not a handout.

In Alberta, Canada this subject is clearly a priority with the government prepared to spend 3.3 billion to eradicate homelessness by 2019. The province has already committed millions in funding new initiatives that address immediate housing pressures. In Red Deer, where I reside we have struck a social marketing steering committee tasked with providing education on the development and implementation of a social marketing campaign regarding housing, homelessness and addictions.

We are not alone, many others are also making a difference in their communities. For example, Kelowna, British Columbia started what they are calling the 30K Club and have established an impressive website for the cause. Take a peek by visiting www.30kclub.com

Social responsibility helps build and strengthen our communities. It also allows us to learn more about ourselves as individuals. We all have the capacity to make a difference in someone's life and in our community, it's simply whether or not we do! Take action and I can assure you there will be no regrets.

GSaville said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response Steven. We'll watch with hope the Alberta initiatives you mention. So often in the past good government intentions have collapsed into the internecine bikering of politicians and overlooked in the nano-attention spans of a sleeping public. I'm sure that won't happen this this case, but it calls for us all to be vigilant.

Most alarming is the increasing numbers of homeless. Last time I checked the stats Calgary's numbers exceeded 2,000 homeless and as I said in this blog entry, Houston's is somewhere between 14,000 and 30,000.

Social marketing committees, $3.3 billion in government funding, and 30K clubs are excellent steps. But they are all for naught if there are still thousands upon thousands of homeless on the streets in the years to come.

Thanks again for the excellent response and the website to keep our eyes open.