The City of Austin has a homelessness problem. It doesn't want you to know. As we prepare for SXSW, an international festival of music, film, and more, city officials sweep the downtown streets clean of our "undesirables" so that visitors won't have to see.
But we are here, all 5,200 of us.
Help tell the City of Austin that our homelessness problem must be addressed - not ignored. Hiding the problem won't make it go away. Worse, it humiliates, disempowers, and marginalizes us.
How do they do it? The City of Austin designs and enforces cruel laws that target homeless people in an attempt not to help us, but rather to push us out of view. A legal fact sheet distributed to homeless persons in Austin informs us what we are NOT permitted, by city ordinance, to do in public:
- sit or lie down on a pathway;
- create an unreasonable odor or smell;
- store personal belongings;
- use any structure for living accommodations;
- use water from a public source.
These laws raise the obvious question: how are we supposed to live? The same legal fact sheet itemizes what options remain to us:
- have a medical emergency.
Faced with arrest for everyday activities that all living humans must do, Austin's homeless are forced out of public view, into illegal campgrounds, under bridges, and into grossly underfunded and unsafe shelters where we do not have adequate resources to improve our lives.
Some facts. Homelessness is a complex problem caused by lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs, domestic violence, mental illness beyond our control (often as a result of injuries we sustained while serving our country), and drug addiction. There are more than 5,200 homeless people in Austin. Women and children make up 40% and are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. And yet our largest shelter, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), has just 175 beds, which are assigned by daily lottery to men only. Our city has no regular shelters for women not involved in domestic abuse. AISD estimates that between 3,000 and 4,000 of our schoolchildren have experienced homelessness. These are disheartening statistics, and we should use every resource at our disposal to alleviate this problem. And yet, in the United States, there are approximately 24 vacant homes for every homeless person.
This is unacceptable. It is time for our homeless brothers and sisters to emerge from ordinance imprisonment, to rejoin our communities, and to thrive in dignity and respect with everyone.
Tell the City of Austin that enough is enough. Stop ignoring this pressing social injustice. Begin the process of reintegration. Please tell the City of Austin to pass the Homeless Protected Class Resolution.
"Give us your poor, your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses - We want to put them in jail for camping violations." - Beloved Austin homeless activist and icon Leslie Cochran, 1951-2012 (pictured above)
TEXT OF THE PROPOSED PROTECTED CLASS RESOLUTION:
by Richard Troxell, House the Homeless.
Because many states and cities are passing and enforcing laws targeting poor and homeless people, and the fact that homeless people are targets of senseless assaults and murder due to their condition of homelessness, House The Homeless feels the need for the adoption of this resolution by City, State, and the United States governments.
HOMELESS PROTECTED CLASS RESOLUTION
Whereas, the United States Government has adopted and is party to the United Nation’s Document referenced as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which “confers on every member of society a right to basic economic, social, and cultural entitlements, that every (nation) state should recognize, serve, and protect, of which food, clothing, medical care, and housing are definitive components of the right to a minimum standard of living and dignity,” and
Whereas, the United States Government has adopted, and is party to the United Nation’s Document; the Habitat Agenda, which calls for certain actions that include but are not limited to: protection against discrimination, legal security of tenure and equal access to land including women and the poor; effective protection from illegal forced evictions, taking human rights into consideration, bearing in mind that homeless people should not be penalized for their status; by adopting policies aimed at making housing habitable, affordable and accessible, including those who are unable to secure adequate housing through their own means, and
Whereas, the United Nations Document: Habitat Agenda, calls for the “Effective monitoring and evaluation of housing conditions, including the extent of homelessness and inadequate housing policies and implementing effective strategies and plans to address those problems,” and
Whereas, there is a shortage of affordable housing stock nationwide, and
Whereas, the national minimum wage is an insufficient amount of money to secure safe, decent, affordable housing even at the most basic financial level, and
Whereas, more than the minimum wage is required in every state to be able to afford a one bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, and
Whereas, the combined effect of these and other circumstances create a group of people that have no alternatives to living on the streets of our nation, and
Whereas, it is estimated that nationwide, there are at least 760,000 persons living without a permanent, fixed, individual residence on any given night, and
Whereas, at least 28% of our nations’ homeless are United States Veterans, and
Whereas, approximately 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of mental illness, and
Whereas, the fastest growing segment of the population is women with children, and
Whereas, 36.5 million men, women and children of all ages are living in poverty (many of whom are already homeless), and
Whereas, there has been a collective, concerted effort at city and county levels to devise laws and ordinances that find homeless people guilty of having committed a crime for simple acts such as sitting, lying down, sleeping in public, or even in their own cars and
Whereas, there are certain life sustaining acts such as eating, breathing and sleeping that must be conducted by all persons including those that are homeless who must conduct these acts in public, and
Whereas, these laws and ordinances are designed to criminalize and sweep these homeless persons form our nations’ streets and imprison them, without regard for their personal safety or care for their personal belongings, for no reason other than they are lacking housing and as a result, are characterized as non-citizens, and are deprived of their human rights, and
Whereas, these impoverished persons are targeted and often made victims of malicious hate crimes and selective enforcement of these laws and ordinances, and
Whereas, camping, sleeping, sitting, lying and other anti-homeless laws including those that restrict the feeding of people who are hungry, are being enforced at a time when emergency housing shelters are consistently full and no housing alternatives remain available, and wages paid are wholly inadequate to afford people the basics of life: food, clothing and shelter, and
Whereas, the enforcement of such laws under such circumstances constitute cruel and unusual punishment and impinge upon these persons access to travel,
THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That persons without a fixed, permanent, individual place of residence, and those that are earning 100% of Federal Poverty Guidelines or less, are sufficient in number characteristics, and vulnerability to compromise a distinct class of people, and as a result, shall hence forth constitute a Protected Class with all rights and protections under such a designation. Herein after, this Protected Class, will be referred to as the Indigent Homeless Population.
AND FURTHER, BE IT RESOLVED, that as a Protected Class they will be protected:
From laws against sleeping, sitting, lying down in public,
From laws that restrict them from being provided food,
From acts or laws interfering with their right to travel,
From wages that are so low that they are denied access to housing,
From laws or practices that disregard their rights of ownership, and protections for their personal belongings,
From being made targets of hate crimes, and
From being characterized and treated as non citizens.
From being denied employment due to one’s homeless or formerly homeless status.
From laws or practices that discriminate against people and deny them any type of housing based on their present or past condition of homelessness.