14 Austin Nonprofit Leaders Offer Advice to New City Council

Homelessness/Housing – Alan Graham, President of Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Alan GrahamHomelessness! It appears on the surface to be an intractable problem. Every urban community in the United States is struggling with this issue and both practically and politically they are at a loss at what to do. As citizens we are demanding that they go “fix” the problem. I believe to the core of my being that it is not their problem to go fix and I believe that there is a complete failure to even recognize why this issue even exists. So to those who will be elected into this new 10/1 configuration we have here in Austin, Texas please pay close attention to what I have to say.

We here at Mobile Loaves & Fishes believe very profoundly that the single greatest cause to homelessness, particularly here in the United States, is a profound catastrophic loss of family. Those issues that tend to exacerbate homelessness like addictions, mental health issues, affordable housing, living wages etc. are often cited as the causal factors and then we dump a bunch of resources into those single source issues with virtually no impact on decreasing homelessness. In my over 16 years of serving the most despised and outcast of our community the common thread is there is no family to be their safety net. In this period of time I have given more talks then I can count and it would be rare that I would encounter an audience or individual whose family has not been impacted by the systemic issues that can exacerbate homelessness but it is rare that I find those families not willing to stay in the game. If we are right regarding the cause of homelessness then we cannot keep dumping resources into a system thinking that we are working on a “solution” to homelessness. From our point of view if you want to really understand homelessness we must first understand what “Home” is.

Home is not shelter! Home is a place of permanence; home is a dwelling place; home is a place of embodied habitation; home is a place of safety and refuge; home is a place of hospitality; home is a place of stories and memories; home is a place of orientation; and, home is a place of affiliation and belonging. Notice that these eight characteristics don’t ever mention the physical structure and the physical structure itself does not embody “home”. Some of us know folks that live in extraordinarily expensive houses but can be equally as homeless as our brothers and sisters who live in the woods.

Boy howdy now, this family discussion can get quite complicated and messy. But we should all agree that as humans we desire to be loved and valued. If you are despised and outcast living on the fringe of a community where no one cares, housing may help but it is really community that makes a difference. But the battle today, particularly here in Austin, to welcome our brothers and sisters into community has turned into this ugliness called, “not in my back yard”. As if our brothers and sisters are the equivalent of a landfill or recycling plant or office building or shopping center. Shame on us! I love it when people say, “I love what you are doing and believe it is the right thing but not here; not in my neighborhood.”

So future City of Austin Mayor and Council Members, begin a culture of saying “YES!, in my back yard!” Ultimately our city will be judged by how it treated its most vulnerable citizens. The disabled chronically homeless are those neighbors we need to care for. Be brave, be bold!

 

Legal Services – Cristina Tzintzún, Executive Director of Workers Defense Project

Cristina TzintzunCongratulations on your new position. I hope that as you embark on your work as a representative of our city, you will advocate for the working families that are the backbone of our communities and our economies. The men and women who build our roads, construct our buildings, serve our food, and care for our children provide essential services, and they should be treated with dignity and respect.

When these workers receive fair wages and are safe on the job, they are better able to support their families and give back to their communities, thus building a stronger, healthier economy and society. As an elected official, you have the power to make the changes necessary to create a brighter future for these working families. By raising the minimum wage, increasing standards for workplace safety, and fighting crimes like wage theft and misclassification, you can be a leader in the movement for a fair economy.

We are working to create a sustainable future in which all workers are safe, and all families can support themselves. Join us.

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