One of the dead bodies was found a short walk away from Minute Maid Park. Another corpse was discovered near the Sears store on Main Street.
Nobody was surprised that two men died on the streets of Houston that night. Both the mayor and the police chief warned that it might happen. The deaths appeared to have been entirely preventable. All the victims needed to do, it seems, was find shelter from the cold.
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Every time a hard freeze hits Houston, we witness the same sequence of events that unfolded before the hazardously frigid night of January 2. Government leaders, police officials and social workers publicly urge the homeless to seek shelter. Reporters interview people living on the streets. And on the day after the coldest night of the year, all too often, police find the corpses of people who died in the freezing weather.
Enough already. This is unacceptable.
Our mayor, our county officials and law enforcement cannot shrug these deaths off as an unavoidable consequence of homelessness. As freezing weather blows in - and it is here again this weekend - our metropolitan area needs to get people off the streets and into safe harbor. These are troubled, fragile individuals and the difficult job of caring for them in extreme crisis falls on government.
Advocates for the homeless flatly say Houston has more than enough places where people can seek shelter on cold nights. The Houston Coalition for the Homeless compiled data saying that on the freezing night of January 2, most of the city's shelters had plenty of empty beds. The problem is that all too many people choose to stay on the streets despite dangerous weather.
Some of them stay outdoors because shelters won't let them bring their pets. Others don't want to abandon piles of belongings. In many cases, they either can't or won't comply with the requirements imposed by faith-based shelters; alcoholics and drug users have a hard time sobering up because they're addicts.
And anyone who has even casual interactions with homeless people knows one of the most intractable elements of the problem is mental illness. Downtown pedestrians have seen the same psychologically disturbed men and women wandering the streets for years. Even on the coldest of nights, many of those troubled citizens of our city don't seek shelter.
"We believe that they lack the mental capacity," Marilyn Brown, the CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless, told the Chronicle's editorial board. "Sometimes they can't even tell us their names."
Read original article at www.houstonchronicle.com.