AUSTIN, Texas (August 21, 2020) — “Homelessness can happen to anyone. One minute you can have everything, the next everything can be gone.”
That’s a scary prospect, one that many of us with stable housing don’t want to consider. Sometimes a single paycheck is the only barrier between housed and homeless. It’s a tenuous connection to stability. And it’s one we must understand if we are to end homelessness in our community.
“People don’t ‘choose’ to become ‘homeless,'” wrote someone who’s experienced housing instability in our community. The person is one of a handful on the Austin Homelessness Advisory Council (AHAC) who told ECHO in a recent survey what they wanted their housed neighbors to understand about living unhoused.
“It is rough,” one person said. “It’s like living like an animal.”
AHAC recruits people with lived experience to help guide policy and practice around ending homelessness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the group is using written surveys to gather feedback. They invited us to submit questions this summer.
The members’ answers challenge the misconceptions and biases many Austinites harbor toward their neighbors experiencing homelessness.
“Not all homeless people are nasty, they just don’t have access to proper hygiene,” one person said. “Not all homeless people are bad,” wrote another.
“We are good people and have fallen down on our luck and need help to get back to life.”
People fall into homelessness for a lot of reasons. “People don’t ‘choose’ to become ‘homeless,'” an AHAC member wrote. For some, the underlying cause is past trauma or massive medical costs. In Austin, where Black people are significantly over-represented in our homeless population, homelessness is often “rooted in structural racism,” another person with lived experience explained.
But for too many, “they simply lack enough of an income to provide them with shelter,” one person wrote. Austin’s affordability gap is huge and only getting bigger. “The aftermath of the shutdown, with all the businesses that have ended, there will be an influx of those that are homeless due to economic reasons.”
And “once you’re there, it is very hard to get back up in this town.”
We all have a role to play in ending homelessness in our community. Advocate for evidence-based solutions and the funding to implement them. Support groups working on behalf of the most marginalized in our community. Volunteer.
Most importantly, listen to people experiencing homelessness. They’re our neighbors, members of our community, and they deserve the same respect and dignity we afford everyone else.
As one AHAC member put it: “Homelessness does not dissolve a person’s humanity.”