By TCCRI President, Mia Garza McCord. Oct. 7, 2019
No policy will change the root cause and offer a meaningful solution to Austin’s homeless issue. A startling statistic-- Travis County has approximately 2,255 homeless individuals on the street on any given night.[I] As Mayor Adler and his city council go head-to-head with state officials over the city’s recent ordinances that have caused an increase in visibility of the homeless population within our city, as a community we need to pause and take a moment to understand the true cause of what leads a person to live on the streets. Perhaps, understanding the why can lead to a true solution, beyond policy-- a people solution, a community solution.
As my family pulled into our church parking lot this weekend, I immediately knew we were in for a treat. Our church was hosting an art fair featuring the work of the residents of Austin’s Community First Village. What I didn’t expect was to be moved to tears by Mobile Loaves and Fishes and Community First Village founder Alan Graham. Alan points to the root cause of homelessness as “the result of a profound catastrophic loss of family.”
Prior to Alan speaking, we watched a video of a success story through the Community First Village. The testimonial was from a woman who went through a painful divorce where she lost her children. That divorce lead to her losing her home and turning to drugs to ease the pain of her loss. She lost everything, including herself. Community First Village has not only given her a home but also set her on a path to success. As a resident of the community she works to earn a living within the community and has found a family, not in the traditional sense, but a family born out of likeness-- the likeness of “profound, catastrophic loss.”
I will be the first to admit that since the Austin ordinance has gone into place, I have felt increasingly uncomfortable walking on the streets of downtown Austin by myself. I have had several uncomfortable encounters and have found myself avoiding walking out of my downtown office all together. But the reason I was moved to tears by Alan was self-recognition and my sense of responsibility as someone who calls herself a Christian.
If we are, as the bible teaches, each a perfect creation in God’s image then those men and women, whom I briskly walk past on the street while avoiding eye contact are not a mistake, not an inconvenience, and not homeless because it is what they choose. They are our fellow man who have experienced that profound, catastrophic loss that is hard for us to fathom. What Alan and his team are doing are bringing dignity and sense of purpose back to a group of individuals who are utterly scarred by trauma and who are wandering alone in this world.
Are there safety issues? Absolutely. Are there sanitation issues? Absolutely. Is the increase in homeless individuals on sidewalks, alleyways, and under overpasses a problem for the economic future of our city? Without a doubt.
While the city council and our state battle out these issues, we, especially those of us who go by Christian, need to do our part. Perhaps when we are approached by the same gentleman who asks for help every day as we walk into Starbucks to buy that $5 morning latte, tomorrow we stop and offer to buy him breakfast before he asks. Maybe we ask his name or even his story.
Maybe organize a Saturday morning shopping trip to Community First Village and support the amazingly beautiful work the villagers are selling. Or, something our family is looking to do, take the whole family out for a movie night at the village’s amphitheater with the intention of bringing a human side to this issue for our children. We have some good friends that, instead of birthday gifts at their kid’s parties, ask that guests bring peanut butter and jelly and socks to donate to Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Volunteer your time, whether it be making sandwiches for the trucks or actually serving on a truck. And, it does not have to be Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Find an organization you believe in and want to be part of. It doesn’t really matter how or where you find your niche. What matters is that we begin to reframe the conversation around homelessness. That beings with engagement and understanding.
While government can attempt to mitigate the health and safety issues surrounding homelessness, the underlying cause is not one for government to solve. That’s up to the community. It’s on our shoulders. Collectively let’s confront the human side of homelessness.