Statement from homelessness nonprofit on recent violence against Austin couple

arlene_and_philip austin couple

The following is a statement from the Homes Not Handcuffs coalition concerning the most recent apparent hate-motivated attack targeting two Austin homeless residents Wednesday afternoon:

The Homes Not Handcuffs coalition has been fighting for years to decriminalize homelessness in Austin, and on June 21, 2019, Austin City Council finally voted to ease unconstitutional and inhumane restrictions on camping, sleeping, sitting and lying down in public. 

We are horrified to learn that since this vote, an Austin couple experiencing homelessness has been subjected to an escalating series of hate-motivated attacks on their camp. First, a projectile, perhaps a BB pellet, was shot into their tent barely missing one of them. Then, a road flare with an anti-homeless message written on it was thrown at their tent while they were inside. Most recently, a firework was thrown from a vehicle into their camp, burning their belongings and their tent and causing a grassfire across the street. Fortunately, they were both away during this latest attack and were unharmed.

When asked what his initial reaction was, Philip Mitchell, one of the victims of the attack, said, “I was just thinking, ‘another freaking crazy day.’ I just wanted to see how much had been destroyed, and when I got here and saw, it was more like a relief to see that [the tent] didn’t totally burn down and had to start from the ground up, but it’s disappointing to see individuals around us that attack us in that way.” 

“This isn’t the first time, but it actually caught fire yesterday,” said Arlene Paige regarding the attack. “It became pretty severe and it even burnt up the area across the street. Over the past couple of months, people have been driving by, throwing things, and shooting at us. Not to say that it’s because of the ordinances being passed, because we’ve been going through this the whole time we’ve been homeless, but it’s also becoming more serious. There’s definitely been a lot more cause for concern of people that are in vehicles and in homes versus other types of people that might just be randomly walking by.”

We believe that anti-homeless violence is the predictable result of the well-financed and coordinated campaign by opponents of homeless decriminalization to vilify and dehumanize people experiencing homelessness. President Trump and Governor Abbot have both made derogatory remarks about homeless people since Austin City Council voted to decriminalize homelessness. Governor Abbott has emboldened this attack against the Austin homeless population by deliberately spreading misinformation about homelessness in Austin to generate fear and hatred of our most vulnerable population. He and others have opportunistically used this community victory for political gain, manipulating Austinites into believing that more safety for the homeless means less safety for them and their families in a shameful effort to turn neighbors against one another.

In this climate, we fear that attacks against people experiencing homelessness will continue and escalate unless we come together as a community to condemn violence and to protect our neighbors who lack shelter. As the responsibility for this act of violence lies with our governor and his local supporters, we must also come together to condemn the hate speech that has been used to attack the homeless population in Austin and the harassment of people camping in public spaces through photographs taken of them without their consent. 

We must hold people accountable for engaging in targeted misinformation campaigns against marginalized communities, for spreading hate speech, and for committing hate crimes. All of these acts represent an escalation of violence that we have a moral duty to disrupt. The solution to homelessness in this country is not more camping spaces, but rather a pathway to housing. We knew this fact when we began this campaign and we are committed to fighting for real solutions to housing insecurity and homelessness. 

The Homes Not Handcuffs coalition is raising money specifically for folks that have been victims of violence targeting people experiencing homelessness. The victims of these attacks have lost nearly all of their belongings and are scared to continue sleeping in public, but have nowhere else to go. We invite you to help them by donating money to replace what they have lost in the fire and protecting them by getting them off the streets and into housing. Please join us as we stand in solidarity with our neighbors and fight for communities that are safe for everyone. 

As community members who believe in the fundamental value of human life, we will continue to fight for the dignity and safety of our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

For more information, visit Homes Not Handcuffs coalition.

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