For several years, I have had the incredible privilege of serving our homeless neighbors in Austin. During that time, I have learned that it is community that will solve homelessness, not merely providing housing or other forms of shelter.
Proposition B was a bipartisan response to the decision by Austin’s city council to lift the “camping ban” that had been in place in Austin for twenty-three years. The given reason for lifting the ban was that prior policies addressing homelessness had failed to work.
Two years later, homelessness in our city has worsened and become more dangerous to our homeless neighbors and other residents of our city. Meanwhile, our city council has floundered in trying to provide hotel rooms for the homeless. That approach will not solve homelessness. In fact, many of the homeless already have a roof over their head or other forms of shelter—they are called tents. Clearly the policies of the past two years have failed.
Austin is a community. We share public spaces. Public spaces, like parks and sidewalks, are meant to be used by members of the community on a temporary basis, with individuals having the responsibly of maintaining those public spaces for use by the next individual. That is the reason Austin’s rules (even before Proposition B) ban camping in parks and on sidewalks.
Passing Proposition B was a reasonable response by the citizens of Austin. But it is not a solution to homelessness or the end of our shared responsibility to our homeless neighbors.
Austin is at an inflection point in reducing homelessness in our community. There are several organizations in the Austin area that provide paths to help the homeless move off the streets. These paths are paved with dignity and humanity for the people that wind up on the streets as “homeless.” Remember, these neighbors are not “house” less, they are “home” less. Home means an environment where people are safe, welcome, and part of a community.
Austin, we can do much better. But looking to our city council to solve homelessness is not the answer. Best to look in the mirror instead.