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Moore: Is helping the homeless hurting our city?

Jan. 6, 2017 at 11:27 p.m.

Murray Moore, a Longview resident, was mayor from 2003 until resigning from office in 2005. (Special to the News-Journal)

Longview's growing homeless population is not easy for me to write about. The topic brings up a wide range of emotions and opinions from just about anyone you talk to.

Homeless people come in all forms: Some are down on their luck, some are homeless after the loss of a job or divorce, some by choice, some because they're trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, some because of addiction and some from untreated mental illness.

Don't believe me? Just drive over to Magrill Plaza one morning and then to the Newgate Mission area.

Businesses along Marshall Avenue, in downtown, along South Mobberly Avenue and our community as a whole have been affected by this growing population. It is difficult to promote Longview as a great retirement city when prospective residents drive by Magrill Plaza and see it has been taken over by transients and homeless people.

Parents visiting their children at LeTourneau University are often flabbergasted when they see the area around Newgate Mission around noon any day of the week. Property values around these blighted areas have been significantly affected, further perpetuating the blight problems in impoverished areas.

Have we as a community accepted that it is OK to panhandle in shopping center entranceways, restaurant drive-thrus and on city sidewalks? Is it acceptable to destroy other people's property with trash, debris and vandalism?

A few years ago a woman was murdered at Newgate Mission on South Mobberly Avenue and two weeks ago a gentleman stabbed at Magrill Plaza.

Are we helping or hurting the homeless by our actions?

Several times I have had encounters with transients or homeless people, and I soon learn very few are actually from Longview. Most have the same answer when asked why they are in the city: They say "I really like it here" or "This is a nice community with good people." I cannot fathom the burden this is putting on the jail and law enforcement.

I have noticed a growing trend of people providing food for the homeless community. Longtime established nonprofits that serve the homeless very seldom have problems with having enough food to serve. They have many resources at their disposal, from local restaurants, grocery stores and the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler.

Many communities that have had a surge in their homeless populations have embraced philosophies that first seek to provide shelter for these people and second food. By employing such a strategy, the community as a whole is encouraging the homeless to go to a shelter, which not only provides housing but also clothing, food and support. It is providing a hand up and not just a handout.

Hiway 80 Rescue Mission is one example of offering a "hand up" and has run a flawless organization for many years. The mission board hires a trained professional to oversee the distribution of its services. The residents learn how to "earn" their services, furthering their skill set and self worth. It also is feeding their souls through spiritual studies and prayer. The area that surrounds the mission is not blighted and rarely do you hear its neighbors complaining about petty theft, vandalism, trash and customers being panhandled.

Problems arise when well-intentioned people go out and search for homeless camps and homeless residents at parks and take them food. Many times they are delaying alcoholics or drug addicts from getting treatment and help for their addiction. Well-intentioned people are creating incentives for more homeless to come to Longview. We are a very giving community.

A few days ago, as I was watching people drop food off at Magrill Plaza (a city park) I was wondering why they don't take a few of these people home and let them live in their spare bedrooms or garage. Why don't the big churches in North Longview feed the homeless from their commercial kitchens and let them all hang around their church 24 hours a day? I encourage people who write checks to our local homeless shelter nonprofits to go and see for themselves how the money is being spent and what services are being offered.

Perhaps it is time Longview has a serious discussion on what we are doing to help and what we are doing that may inadvertently be hurting our homeless. Longview is a very giving, caring, compassionate community. As a society we are morally obligated to take care of the less fortunate. The dilemma is how we, as a community, define "take care of."

— Murray Moore, a Longview resident, was mayor from 2003 until resigning from office in 2005.



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