Victoria - The effects of the growing homeless crisis in Victoria can be seen across the city, yet progress in addressing the causes of homelessness remains stagnant. To find answers about what initially causes and perpetuates homelessness, Newscenter 25 Insight found one community activist at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church who says those suffering the most have been low-income and homeless Victorians.
Kim Pickens is Victoria’s most recognizable advocate for homelessness in Victoria, TX. Not only does she work with Our Savior’s Lutheran, she also participates in organization efforts to push for the city of Victoria to address homelessness and find a way to work with non-profits to offer a solution to the growing crisis.
“People always talk about and assume, you know, that the person you see on the corner that’s ranting and raving, that they’re crazy. That’s what people assume is what homelessness looks like,” said Pickens.
“The thing about when you’re working with and advocating for the homeless, or whether you’re working in an environment with the homeless, is that the thing you want to do is the second someone becomes homeless, you want to get them into a program or rehoused as soon as you can. Because the longer that someone stays homeless, if you had any depression or any mental illness, no matter what it was, it gets so much worse. So much worse.”
When asked about why the City of Victoria didn’t seem to have an ongoing project to address the issue of homelessness, Kim said, “They want to keep it all separate. They want churches and non-profits to be responsible for everything. The thing is, the reality of the situation is, churches and non-profits, churches especially, have gotten away from that kind of stuff because the government had stepped in and done things. So now they’re trying to reverse it. They’ve started pointing fingers. ‘Well the churches need to do it. Well the government needs to do it.’ How about we work together. How about we all just meet in the middle and work together.”
Kim wants to hold city council members accountable, but she also feels that they don’t truly understand the issues that cause and perpetuate chronic homelessness. Not because they don’t want to, but because they simply don’t know the people suffering.
She said, “They are moving in a different circle than most of the people that are in their area. And the thing is, they come out once in a while and do some kind of charity event. You don’t even know the people that are in your area, that are in your district. People talk about how the Northside is some kind of rich area, and it’s not. There are lots of pockets of people that are living way below the poverty level. They don’t ever go out there and address the issues that people have. People would like to have a place to sit while they’re waiting for the bus. If you’ve ever taken a bus in this town, it could take you an hour and a half to wait for a bus that’s supposed to run every 20-30 minutes, and it never comes. It shouldn’t be inconvenient for someone to ask for a bus stop. Victoria people don’t like to talk about the fact that Victoria has a very large population of people that live below the poverty line. That’s elderly, that’s disabled, that’s single parents, but it’s also people that work. Most of these people are working poor.
We have a lot of people that fall into that category. They don’t have a safety net. They don’t have money for savings. People will judge you, because they don’t have a clue. They don’t stop to ask you what’s going on in your life. They assume that you’re bad with money or spending. They think that maybe if you hadn’t had more than one kid, you’d be fine. Your whole life would be fine, as if that’s really the case. It’s not. Nobody can say what’s going to happen in their lives.”
When I stopped by Christ’s Kitchen, I spoke to some of the volunteers as they prepped for the day. One volunteer told me that she had never truly understood the gravity of the homeless crisis in Victoria until she began working with homeless and hungry residents. Her volunteer work had changed her entire perspective. Instead of homeless people being an invisible part of the scenery, they became very much real.
Kim elaborated on this when she told me, “It’s hard to not honor peoples’ stories by actually working super hard to make sure that their ok. I think that’s probably the thing that has affected me the most working with people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness. It’s that feeling that you have to do more. It’s like, I can lay here in my bed and feel super comfortable, but I feel so guilty. When you wrap people around with those services, that support them, it’s like any other community, things work out in a different way. It’s not perfect. It’s not 100 percent, but it’s way better than leaving someone out on the street because they’re flying a sign to get high. I can guarantee you that nobody wakes up says, “One day, I want to be homeless.” Nobody.”
The Victoria Area Homeless Coalition sought to educate Victoria's residents about the causes of homelessness. They hosted an open-to-the-public Homeless Symposium at University of Houston-Victoria where attendees found that much of the collected data on Victoria’s homeless community was shocking. As Kim Pickens mentioned, homelessness doesn’t always look like the person pan-handling on the street corner, and according to collected data, the number of people on the cusp of homelessness has increased. To this group of low-income Victorians, one paycheck could mean the difference between living on the street and affording their rent. The city’s lack of affordable housing, stagnant wages, and the city’s reliance on non-profits to care for those suffering most, contribute to what looks like an increasingly dire situation.
How to get involved
To volunteer contact
2nd and 4th Tuesday
2nd and 4th Tuesday
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11am - 1pm Monday - Saturday
611 E. Warren Ave Victoria Tx 77903
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