Two weeks ago, as our man-made systems failed to protect us, we found our friends and made new ones and chose to survive through cooperation, empathy, and support for each other. We did this organically and naturally using every resource any of us had to offer. We did not stop and wait for somebody to save us. When asked for help, we did not ask the police to come and remove those who were struggling. We did not question whether someone who had lost their water deserved their thirst. We simply acknowledged the reality of our collective situation and worked together to make sure we all made it through. Put simply, we just did the right thing.
Today, two weeks later, many of our neighbors still do not have access to water, power or shelter. Many still do not have access to functioning toilets. Some live in expensive apartment complexes and others live in tents underneath overpasses.
At our community event Tuesday, we had a panel discussion on the topic of homelessness in Austin and how racial justice relates to it. We learned about how access to stores, transit, and services is critical for people who are unhoused, just like it is for those of us who are housed. We heard about the lack of empathy and the blame attributed to people who are homeless for their situation. Some of the panelists spoke to the cycle that perpetuates homelessness:fines are given to people who are unable to pay,which leads to criminal records, which just ensures they cannot get stable work, guaranteeing continued homelessness.In short, we heard how the city we live in is actively making decisions every day that make the lives of our homeless neighbors worse. It is also not a coincidence that people who are unhoused in Austin are disproportionately Black.
As Stephanie Webb of Decipher City pointed out at our event this week “you cannot cure pathology with policy”. When the thing that broke us down was the weather, we all banded together to collectively thrive. When the thing that broke us down was centuries of systemic choices, we chose to frame it as an isolated incident impacting an individual to be separated, cataloged, and procedurally dispositioned when we could have just banded together to collectively thrive. When you compare the two situations it is hard not to see the stark contrast in how we respond to different groups of people in very similar situations.
Pathology has varying definitions that all point to something that is unnatural or a sickness that is bad for the organism. The word pathology is apt because much like an illness in your body that limits your abilities and growth, very few Amerians would say that our society is healthy, thriving, and on a positive path. If we simply built a house for every homeless person so that they would no longer be technically homeless, the endemic and systemic realities that enable chronic homelessness would not disappear. Racial inequality and homeless is the result of a societal choice to pick winners and losers based on man-made criteria and to perpetuate the choice to the benefit of the winners. In this moment, it is hard to separate the choices you make from the ones that were already made for you long before you were born.
In the coming weeks, various political action committees and the city are going to push to get things back to “normal.” “Normal” like when the disproportionately Black homeless population was largely out of sight and unable to access the resources they need without fearing arrest. “Normal” like when the Austin Police Academy produced regular classes of cadets each year who then arrest, fine, and imprison Black people disproportionately. “Normal” like when zoning rules protect the home values of the rich and the rights of landlords at the expense of people of color, their neighborhoods, and their communities.
At this moment we ask, what if we choose to not go back to “normal”? What if we chose to see our struggling neighbors and ask ourselves “how can I help?” just like we did two weeks ago. What if we choose to acknowledge that forces bigger than any individual play a role in our current social position? What if we choose to heal the sickness in our society instead of casting judgment on those who remind us of it? Two weeks ago, nobody felt safe and nothing was “normal” and somehow, not miraculously, we were able to come together to work for our collective good. What if we made the choice to always ask ourselves “What are we protecting, and at what expense?” for every decision we made and make that the new “normal”?
If a different “normal” sounds like something you would be willing to move toward, the path is long and made of hundreds of tiny choices. But you will not be stepping out onto that path alone. We will be there with you. In the coming weeks, we have several time-sensitive issues that need our attention as we reimagine a new “normal.”
Opposing Proposition B in the May 1 Local Election
The coming Prop B vote is a vote to push our community’s poorer neighbors out of sight. Local elections outside of major national elections typically have small turnouts, so every vote counts. Some steps you can take are:
Vote against Prop B: Make a commitment and a plan to vote against recriminalizing homelessness. View key election dates here.
Rally others to oppose the proposition: Let as many people as possible know to vote against recriminalizing homeless in Austin.
Volunteer at a virtual phone or text bank like this opportunity with Homes Not Handcuffs March 7.
Spread the word on social media. Follow @D5forblacklives and actively re-share our content opposing this proposition and educating our community on why policing homelessness is not the answer. We also encourage you to follow Homes Not Handcuffs, ECHO and Alliance Against Camping Bans on Twitter.
Here’s a podcast you can start with: American Police.
Stay Engaged with the Reimaging Safety Process: Upcoming APD Cadet Academy Decision
As you’re aware, there is a longer “re-imagining” process happening in the city of Ausin that represents what will be a multi-year conversation about how the city funds public safety. It began with taking some responsibilities away from the police, but where it ends is still very much to be decided. This process represents an opportunity to have our tax dollars spent on the health and safety of all the people in our city instead of just the privileged. Austin is Safer When and Texas Appleseed are good resources for learning more about this process and education on how your small choices today can help create a healthier society for the generations of tomorrow.
There are also some decisions coming up regarding having another Austin Police Academy cadet class. We will do our best to keep you apprised of information as we learn it. Some steps to take here are:
Stay tuned to our future newsletters for updates.
Be ready to contact your city council representative and the mayor via phone or email
Be ready to speak at city council meetings
Yours in struggle,
D5 for Black Lives
Each week D5 for Black Lives will bring you helpful facts to fight false narratives.
One of the myths some people have is that homelessness is too complicated a problem to solve. It is not. Research shows that investing in supportive permanent housing rather than temporary shelters reduces homelessness AND saves taxpayer dollars. Here in Texas, since 2011, Houston has reduced by 54% its population of residents facing homelessness. How did they do it? Community organizations rallied together around one idea: the solution to homelessness is permanent, supportive housing. In 2019, Abilene was also officially recognized for functionally ending its veterans’ homelessness, again through community collaboration and permanent housing. The problem is not too complicated.