Rev. John Elford, senior pastor at University United Methodist, and David Guarino of All Saints Episcopal point out how state action impacts homelessness in Austin.
....Austin is at a critical moment in our fight to end homelessness. Recent attempts to revise the city’s old ordinances, which effectively criminalized everyday activities, brought people experiencing homelessness out of the shadows. It was hard to miss that our neighbors were suffering.
The response of the governor was to order the dismantling of encampments under state highways and provide a vacant lot off U.S. 183 as an alternative campground, far from the city’s social service and transportation hubs. As a result, many of our unhoused neighbors have been forced back to the woods, out of sight.
For years, state leaders have systematically disinvested in Texas’ public sector, exacerbating this problem. They have failed to make adequate provisions for affordable housing, social services, mental health and health care, and workforce development, pushing these costs to local governments. At the same time, these Texas leaders have limited the ability of cities to pick up the tab. They have contributed to the problem of homelessness and branded those who are suffering as criminal and disease-ridden.
The problem stretches further up the income spectrum. In one of our congregations, mobile home residents east of U.S. 183 are being pushed out by an owner who simply wants a higher rate of return. The tenants have been kicked to the curb, their last affordable housing options in Austin gone.
There is broad agreement that the real answer to people living on our streets is not relocating our neighbors, but creating sustainable housing....
[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]
Commentary: This Holiday, Let's Focus on Hope for Homeless, Austin American Statesman [pdf]