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?