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Why is the City of Texarkana Texas Trying to Shut Down ‘Jesus Camp’? [OPINION]

Jeff Easterling

I visited “Jesus Camp – Texarkana” on Thanksgiving day, and met some really good people in a struggle that has only gotten harder since the City of Texarkana has turned against them. I am asking WHY?

For those not familiar with Jesus Camp-Texarkana, Ms. Mimi did a nice story in August.

I know that I do not have all of the facts, but what I do know is that local businessman Joe Narens has had his business location downtown under the viaduct for years. He runs his firewood business from there. I have known Joe for many years, and if I was asked to describe Joe I would say he is a “laborer for the lord.” As long as I have known him he has always been working to help someone. Over the past couple of years as the city does what they can to drive the homeless from downtown, folks have built a makeshift tent community on Joe’s private property, with his blessing. Joe does what he can to make sure the people that make their way to “Jesus Camp” get the help they need and are as comfortable as possible. He uses his equipment and sweat to make sure the bushes are trimmed back. He sprays and spreads mulch to keep mosquitoes down. He does it with money from his own pockets with no funds or even help from the city. Now the city is shutting off utilities to his property in what is believed to be an effort to shut down “Jesus Camp”.

Jeff Easterling

There are some that have made bad decisions, had bad luck or habits that have led them to live on the streets. Not all homeless are drunks, or addicts but all are human. I have been fortunate to meet people like Andy at Jesus Camp, he rides a bike, he works when he can find it, but can’t seem to be able to get a good stance on his feet. Andy has been in a tent on Joe’s property for almost a year now. I met Lisa, who was homeless for a long time and had struggles with the law (more probation and legal costs), she is sort of the camp supervisor making sure that people that find there way into the camp have warm blankets, clean clothes, something to eat. Then she goes right back to work chopping firewood. The system seems to have a way of getting some down and keeping them there. You have no money to fight, you lose your job, you have no home, you lose your car, you get probation costs, etc… I would never say that people that end up homeless are not to blame for their situation, and most of them will be the first to tell you about their mistakes, and what led them to where they are now.

I understand that the city does not want homeless camping out at the park they built next to the Randy Sam’s homeless shelter (???) or the library (you can google it) or using the restrooms that nobody else uses. I do NOT understand the city actively trying to keep an individual for helping his fellow man. Especially with the City’s reasoning.

Joe has not had water at the location before, but back in July Narens had the water turned on at the location which required a large deposit and the cost to have the city works department install a water hydrant. Joe told me,

Jesus told me to do it. It was about $500 and that’s a lot of money, but these people at least need clean water, and a way to keep themselves clean and healthy. So, I called them and told them what I wanted it for. They took the money and sent a crew to install it.”

The water was turned on July 25, 2013. On November 14, after 112 days of service the Camp was stormed by law enforcement officers, and the water meter was pulled. When asking why, Joe was told that it was an environmental issue with drainage.

That people washing their clothes or bodies would drain off into Swampoodle Creek creating an environmental hazard.”.

This is in the same area of Texarkana that when we get a good rain, sewage comes up through the area drains, with enough force to even lift the manhole covers and floods the entire area as the sewage then drains into… that’s right, “Swampoodle Creek”. Better not let any soap runoff in the creek, but sewage is apparently alright. You can even see in the photo below, that the city’s quick fix for the latest sewage flood was to put a weighted barrel on a manhole cover. When asked why the city does not fix it, it was explained that “it is a sewage system problem and the project would be too expensive”.

Jeff Easterling

I know there must be more to the story… And I will follow up with the Texarkana Texas Executive Director of Community and Public Works Shirley Jaster (903-798-3949) who at the time of writing this has been unavailable to answer questions, I assume because of the holidays. I don’t know if she is the one in charge, but that was the name I was given when I stopped by the camp and asked who I should talk to.

I was contacted by a lady that claims to be a business owner near the camp, and says there are LOTS of problems with the homeless being there. However, when pressed for examples of some of the issues, she would not respond.

I spoke to another business owner in the area, and the biggest concern was that when they are open for business sometimes their customers bring their children downtown, and they are scared that the homeless might do something to them… they haven’t, but they are concerned about that, and that somebody might steal something from a customer’s vehicle… they haven’t, but they might. (???)

One Facebook friend recommended a Netflix documentary about the Tent City in Nashville called “Tent City – U.S.A.”, and the injustices inflicted there, here is the promo for the film…

I know that no matter whatever or whoever… it will eventually come down to the city wanting money. Joe has been doing this with his own money, and does not want to ask the city for help. Joe and his wife Kathy is do this as a followers of the Lord, and I can respect that, but out of that same respect I will do whatever I can to help Joe and the members of Jesus Camp – Texarkana and I hope there are more that can help too.

Some pics from Jesus Camp – Texarkana’s Facebook Page… in these pics you will see some of the good works that have been accomplished at the camp. You will see Virginia who spent 12 years homeless, but is now in a home and engaged to be married to Randy. You will see Anthony, who was most thankful this Thanksgiving because he has been able to earn and save enough to get an apartment for him and his son Immanuel. I believe there are good things happening under the bridge, but it will take all of God’s Christian Army to get the city to help and kick in to take care of Texarkana’s homeless population.

Once again…BE CLEAR that I am sure I do not have all of the facts, and that is why I am asking the question… Why is Texarkana Texas trying to shut down Jesus Camp? If there is something you would like to add, or take away from this post, please feel free to comment.

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