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"This building was built in 1954 with a different society, a different culture in mind," says Brown. "Things have changed in 45 years. The nine- and ten-foot sidewalks outside are eliminated in the new facility. It's designed not to allow loitering on the outside, but rather to provide services on the inside." According to Brown, roughly 70 percent of the center's clientele are crack cocaine users and an equal percentage are black.
The director says the new facility will include a number of programs aimed at street people, including a 30-bed detox clinic, a dispatcher and a two-man van unit called Operation Bigfoot, which will operate throughout the area to pick up drug-addicted or drunk street people and transport them to the clinic.
Councilman Castillo is unimpressed with Star of Hope's grand plans. He accuses officials of trying to mislead city officials and residents into believing that its residential facility for women and children in southeast Houston is the model of what will be built near downtown.
"Of course it looks beautiful," retorts Castillo, "but that's not the reality of what we have now on La Branch or what we will have over where they're going to be." He notes that the Star of Hope's graphics for its presentation to the Council committee "didn't show one street person sleeping on the sidewalk; it didn't show anybody sleeping under tarps and cardboard boxes."
As for plans to run a van patrol to pick up transients, Castillo points out that there's no law to force cooperation by street people. "Most of them won't, unless they're going for a meal and a blanket," scoffs the councilman. "And once they get that, they're not going to go inside of that facility."
Told that Mayor Brown had promised to institute a police task force, former constable Castillo has a good laugh and offers an observation based on experience.
"Constables and cops in general don't like to deal with street people and winos," observes Castillo, who might have added councilmembers to the list. "You know why? Because they puke in your back seat, and you don't want to spend the rest of the night cleaning it out. And you don't want to haul them in, because they're out of jail before you can do the paperwork."
Castillo plans to continue trying to cut off city funding for the shelter, despite the defection of several of its former critics. The full Council must still vote on the allocation, and Brown's position on the Star of Hope board will probably force him to sit out the debate.
"I've got news for them," says Castillo of those who've dropped their opposition to the shelter. "I don't think Irma or Councilman Fraga realize the Trojan horse that they've dragged into our community."
If the street people stay hidden as promised inside that Trojan horse, neither Irma nor the downtown redevelopers will have any complaints.
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