Galveston County officials ought to make the land in front of the new Justice Center available for trailers for those who lost their houses in Hurricane Ike.

The last thing county officials ought to be worried about is an “image” problem.

Yes the land which is on Broadway is on Galveston’s front doorstep. But it was OK to use the site as a collection point for a spectacular pile of debris in the first two months after the storm. How can it not be OK as a site for housing for people who’ve lost everything? Do we really want to admit that we find garbage less objectionable than displaced people?

If we keep up this charade we are going to be in danger of losing our conscience. This community lost much during the storm but collectively we cannot afford to lose a sense of concern for our neighbors.

We suspect that the real problem has little to do with image. It has a lot to do with the courage it takes to face a politically explosive question in island politics: Do we want low-income people to return to the island?

Please don’t tell us this is not about the poor. Most of the people who are affluent enough to afford beach houses on the West End have the resources to fend for themselves. Few of those folks are in line for the trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While some of the folks who would use the trailers are in the middle class most do the ordinary jobs that keep a lot of Galveston’s businesses running. A lot of them work in the tourism industry. Some of them used to live in the public housing projects.

Are those projects going to be rebuilt?

As of today you cannot get a clear answer to that question. You also can’t get a clear answer to the question of whether FEMA trailers are going to be allowed on public land in Galveston.

All across Galveston you hear people saying it would be a good thing if the projects were not rebuilt and FEMA were not allowed to provide trailers. The idea is that the island would be a better place if the poor went elsewhere else.

Does Galveston want those folks back?

There ought to be a public discussion of that question. We ought to consider the benefits of having working people on the island and people who shop local. We ought to weigh those benefits publicly against whatever costs are associated with having those folks on the island.

If there isn’t some kind of public discussion of that question we suspect the answer by default is that they are not wanted on the island. What that means is that FEMA will face one roadblock after another in providing those trailers. It also means there will be one roadblock after another in rebuilding public housing.

If that theory is wrong there’s an easy way to disprove it. Allow FEMA trailers on public land. Announce a plan for rebuilding public housing units.

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