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InsideOut At City Hall: Learning from Our Best Friends

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Thoughts on our pets, plus housing the homeless.

Annise08By Annise D. Parker

I was recently asked to submit an article for the holiday issue of PetTalk Magazine. It prompted me to really think about what pets bring to our lives. I won’t repeat the article here, but I want to echo some themes. Pets offer us companionship, but they give us an example of how to approach each day. They are a gift, and a responsibility.

I currently have a very elderly dog and multiple cats in various stages of life. They are all rescue animals. (I hasten to say they are all spayed or neutered and licensed with the city.) They line up to greet me when I walk in the door and demand their quota of attention. They chastise me when their food bowls are empty. They curl up next to me to sleep. They come running when I pull out their favorite toy. They understand what is important: food, shelter, companionship, and play.

We tend to anthropomorphize our pets. We talk to them and ascribe human feelings. But it’s their differences we should celebrate. They are never self-conscious or inhibited. They don’t view themselves as less than perfect and agonize over their imperfections. They don’t get depressed over a new gray hair. They never get too busy to enjoy the world around them.

Many years ago I owned a dog that had to have a rear leg amputated. I grieved for her loss and mourned that she couldn’t run the way she had. She learned to walk again, even mastering stairs. When she fell, she would just get up and go again.

Dancer, the dog that shares our lives now, is deaf, mostly blind, and arthritic. Yet he wiggles like a puppy each morning in his eagerness to be let out into the yard to catch the day’s new scents. The kittens will chase each other, or a dust bunny.

As we approach the holidays, keep these things in mind. Life should be approached with joy. Each breath is a gift. Every day is precious, and in all we do we should attempt to find joy in the doing. Now, I admit that cleaning the cat boxes gives me pause, but you get the idea.

Housing the Homeless

It may be surprising, given Houston’s relatively low housing costs, but affordable housing ranks high on the city’s priority list. Local efforts to provide housing—and a hand up—for the neediest took center stage this summer when City Council vigorously debated and finally voted down plans for a 220-room SRO (single room occupancy) development at 3815 S. Gulf Freeway near Fingers.

Although the county had already approved spending almost $2 million in federal grants on the Magnolia Glen SRO, East End residents complained they already had too many homeless “shelters” and “soup kitchens.” They do indeed have their share, and a few turned out to be poor neighbors.

SROs are very different from soup kitchens and homeless shelters in that they help the formerly homeless—those with the strongest desire to be helped—work and transition to permanent housing. In fact, they are similar to apartment complexes composed of all efficiency units. Houston is blessed with some of the state’s best SROs created by the Housing Corporation of Greater Houston and New Hope Housing, which plan to house 1,000 adults by 2020. I have toured some of these facilities and found them not only clean but also bright, colorful spaces we can take pride in. Overall, SROs are considered the number one permanent solution to homelessness.

The concerns voiced about the Magnolia Glen project by residents of the East End harkens back to the fierce battles in Montrose over the first federally funded apartment houses for people with HIV. As you may know, Montrose, where I live, was home to numerous halfway houses and Covenant House (for runaway teens) long before HIV-related apartment complexes began to spring up in the 1980s. Today few Montrose residents seem to be aware of the “assisted living” facilities scattered all around them. They fit into the neighborhood and provide critically needed services.

Plans for the Magnolia Glen SRO remain up in the air, and it may wind up in some other neighborhood. Whatever the outcome, it is critical that Houston city leaders not retreat from their long-standing commitment to encourage and support more affordable housing from SROs to single-family homes and apartment complexes for seniors, the disabled, veterans, and others with low incomes.

The next column will highlight two of Houston’s most successful affordable home programs: Houston Hope and Mayor White’s Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority, more commonly known as LARA.

Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal officials in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www.houstoncontroller.org. The City Controller’s webpage is www.houstontx.gov/controller/index.html. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an e-mail to [email protected] houston.net.

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Annise Parker

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker is the President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute. A complete list of Victory Fund-endorsed candidates is available at victoryfund.org/ourcandidates. They currently have 16 endorsed candidates running in Texas.

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