Homelessness is a structural issue, not an individual one. A structural issue is based on how society is organized or “structured.” In Austin, some of the major structural causes of homelessness are the skyrocketing prices of housing, the lack of affordable access to healthcare, the lack of liveable wages, and the criminalization of homelessness. These structures make the short-term and long-term experience of homelessness more likely for many and almost certain for even more. Intertwined with the culture of white supremacy, these structures cause nearly 37% of Travis County’s homeless to be African American, despite African Americans representing less than 10% of the total population. In a democracy, at the end of the day, we get to collectively choose which structures we want to uphold, change, or abolish. While this responsibility can be a tough pill to swallow, it can also be empowering.
This past Sunday, part of a homeless encampment under East Ben White Boulevard caught fire, destroying the shelter and possessions of numerous of our unhoused neighbors. Thankfully, no one was injured. The videos and images of smoke stopping traffic on Ben White can be used to illustrate two different perspectives on who we are. For those advocating to re-criminalize homelessness, they might point at the images and say, “See, there is a fire, camping is a threat to our safety; we must stop public camping.” For those who center the experience and safety of our unhoused neighbors, they could point to the same images and say, “We must prioritize housing for our neighbors to make them safe.” Only the second perspective will both reduce the risk of fire and other dangers inherent in encampments and also provide better protection for our unhoused neighbors.
On May 1, 2021, we choose who we are. Proposition B on the May 1 ballot decides whether to re-criminalize homelessness (hiding our neighbors, not housing them), or finding real solutions, including low-barrier shelters, rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, job training programs, and stable employment opportunities.
(1) Vote No on Proposition B and
(2) Volunteer to raise awareness and virtually canvass. You can sign up for any of multiple dates at Austin Is Safer When.
Each week D5 for Black Lives will bring you helpful facts to fight false narratives.
Many people have misconceptions about people who are unhoused, believing that most (if not all) have serious mental illnesses, abuse drugs and alcohol, and are homeless as a result of “bad choices.” Dr. Deborah Padgett, a leading scholar on homelessness, explains that these are all myths. In Austin, ECHO cites the following as the key causes of homelessness: unaffordable housing, unaffordable healthcare, abuse and trauma, and racial inequalities. According to Dr. Padgett, “decades of epidemiological research” show that, typically, about a third of people who are unhoused have a serious mental illness, about 20-40% have a substance abuse issue (which is more likely a consequence of homelessness rather than a cause of it), and for most, it is an illness, an accident, a loss of one’s job, or a fall into debt that is the most immediate trigger of homelessness. Even though these myths are wrong about the majority of people who are unhoused, we all lose when we divide up our community into people who are “worthy” or “unworthy” of help. We have the choice to help all people who are unhoused. Please join us!