FOCUS ON: Austin’s Homeless

Elroy Morales, Isaiah Thomas, Gary Matthews… These names are among the 158 homeless people who lost their lives last year in Austin.

“They may have been invisible to many people in their lives on the streets but today they are NOT invisible,” said city council member Laura Morrison at the Homeless Memorial Ceremony.

More than 9800 people in Austin are homeless. As city manager Marc Ott watched the proceedings, he reflected on his own decision to experience this life first-hand.

“For me it was eye-opening,” city manager Marc Ott said. “I mean I was struck by things like the idleness… simply having nothing to do all day. I was struck by when I first got there that morning, when I got downtown the reaction of people to me.”

Ott says he is still digesting from his experience.

“While housing first in my humble opinion, housing alone is not enough,” Ott said.

The Austin City council passed a resolution calling for 350 units of supportive housing, but other key factors must be addressed including mental health and job training.

“Beyond that a job would provide that same sort of aha, right on, work yes let’s go John Q citizen again rather than a reptile sitting on a dang gazebo,” Charles, who is homeless, said.

Charles and his wife, Alice, were left homeless after Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re a family. I’m a family man without so much the house,” Charles said.

They haven’t had much luck weathering the job market.

“People think we’re out here drinking… yeah I wish!” Charles said.

“People say, ‘why are they waiting around?’ Well, there are 3,000 people waiting to get into public housing, there’s a waiting list for case management, there’s a waiting list for the health clinic, there’s a waiting list for everything. So that at some point what else are they going to do,” said Dawn Perkins, the Director of Communications for Front Steps.

Life on the streets is waiting game… some wait to die. Others hope for a hand up rather than a handout.

– Nicole

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