[Hpn] Homelessness in Austin!

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 8 Oct 2001 21:43:18 -0400


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Austin and the Homeless



Austin and the Homeless



A few final comments from Tony Hearn





Because I have seen my name mentioned in a few messages on the Internet
which have been concerned about Austin politics and how homeless persons
have fared in that city in the past as well as currently, I would like offer
a few comments so that my involvement then and now is clarified for the
benefit of those who continue to use my name.



To my knowledge, there have always been homeless persons drifting through
Austin as well as any other city in America. Prodigals happen. Luck fails.
Wanderlust bites. Domestic discord disrupts. People find themselves on the
street. For decades in Austin as around the nation, persons who found they
had no place to call home could and would look to traditional charitable
organizations like the Salvation Army for "soup and soap" and counsel about
"salvation." In some cities, there has been more than one organization which
provided assistance. For instance, in Houston there has been the Star of
Hope mission in addition to the "Sally." In New York, Chicago, and Los
Angeles, there are several missions to aid the down and outers. Though the
problem of homelessness was real to those without an address, it was not a
social "issue." Well-meaning souls devoted to helping the poor kept the
topic out of the public's mind except at Christmas when the kettles and the
jingle of bells reminded everyone of the homeless poor.



Yet, for a number of complex reasons, the number of homeless persons since
the 1980s has increased dramatically, in Austin, as well as around the
nation. The number of homeless, in fact, has soared.



The traditional social service organizations like the Salvation Army have
had to contend with the swelling number of persons needing assistance as
well as to adapt their programs to address expectations placed upon them by
their local communities. What was once considered a mission to those who
needed spiritual direction as well as emergency material aid became almost
overnight a quasi-governmental welfare agency to which public dollars were
doled out with the direction that the reeling charities were to open their
dormitories to warehouse anyone anytime from off the streets. "And, heaven
forbid, don't mention 'salvation' or the ACLU will get you!"



Being a journalist by training and having been concerned and involved with
the homeless by personal conviction, I know the way things developed in
Austin in the 1980s and onward until 2000. (I won't mention that sociology
as an academic field grew out of journalism more than a century ago, from
coverage of Hull House in Chicago.) So I am going to limit my comments to
homelessness in Austin, because I know what I am commenting about. Others
can comment on homelessness elsewhere.



In Austin, beginning in the early 1980s, homelessness became an item on the
City Council's agenda for three primary reasons. To start, reason one: the
State of Texas decided to close down its asylums housing the mentally ill
rather than upgrade them to humane conditions. Mental health professionals
sold Texas Legislators on a less expensive solution to caring for the
insane. Their plan: drug the mentally ill with new behavior modifying
substances and send them out into society where they would be cared for in
idyllic group homes in cities across the state. One-way Greyhound bus
tickets were handed out by state officials to the mentally ill to empty out
the Austin State Hospital. And not just a few of the state mental health
professionals bought up rundown large houses and converted them into group
homes, billing the state for becoming landlords to those they flushed from
substandard state-owned dorms. Oh, yes, let's not forget how our State
Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation filled up the benches
along Congress Avenue. And where have many, many persons hanging out at
Austin's Salvation Army come from? Good ole MHMR! Their former inmates might
have been crazy, but they were not stupid! They didn't and still don't want
to live in rundown group homes barely staffed by incompetent and/or often
cruel "sitters" where the only therapy is a blaring television. So they
wandered and still roam the streets and hang out with their peers at the
Salvation Army and other care-providing agencies. They wander in the parks
and forage through the trash bins for diversion. So, thanks to MHMR and our
State Legislature, authentically homeless persons with a full deck were
infiltrated with our city's share of Texas' crazies. (Is there a more polite
way of phrasing it?)



The second primary reason for the increase in homelessness in Austin in the
early 1980 was the misguided policy of the state's most prestigious
educational institution: the University of Texas. For a group of persons who
are supposed to be so smart, those running UT did a dumb thing; they decided
to turn the school into a mega-university which meant that a major expansion
of facilities had to happen. It had to happen in the heart of an established
neighborhood. I remember it well. I went to a court hearing in the Stokes
Annex where several blacks who had defied eviction from affordable housing
in East Austin were on trial. Oh, yes! I remember. Vice Chancellor Edwin
Sharpe, then a vice president, was there. He was the one who gave the order
for bulldozers to level countless houses where the poor lived just east of
Interstate 35. My black friends did time and paid fines for trying to save
houses. Ed Sharpe got a raise and a promotion. And Austin got a world-class
baseball diamond. (Is there a more polite way of phrasing it?)



And, by the way, why didn't UT build all that jazz out in Manor or Bastrop?
I'll tell you why. Arrogance, Plain and simple. Those bubbas think "big" has
something to do with academic excellence. That's why they continue to expand
UT like a bloated beer belly. Packing all the new students into Austin had
quite an impact on affordable housing, too. To meet the housing needs of the
expanding student body, older affordable housing was demolished and stylish
new apartments and condos were constructed in their place for students
living off their daddies' money. And the new students who couldn't afford to
live in such elegant digs dug into their pockets and came up with student
loan money to pay the higher rents of the remaining affordable housing. And
guess where that left the working poor? You guessed it, Austin! Our grand
University of Texas and its arrogant boosters shoved them right out on the
street. Thanks to UT officials and all the bubbas who haven't the brains of
Bevo!



The third reason for the increase in homelessness in Austin in the 1980s was
the greed of the "let's get richer" crowd. It was men like former Governor
John Connally and his clone Ben Barnes and dozens of others who borrowed
other peoples' money and created a land boom. The buzz word was
"gentrification." Tear down anything that looks old, throw up a high rise,
and soak the tenants. But, of course, first sell the shell for a ransom. So
Austin, like the rest of Texas, was raped by the real estate speculators. I
remember it well. Anyone remember the Alamo? The Alamo Hotel, that is! Ole
Stanley Adams bought the Alamo Hotel at West Sixth and Guadalupe. And he
tore it down intending to put up a monument to his greed and his shaky Lamar
Financial Corp. The Alamo Hotel for years had been home to poor transients
and those who could only afford flophouse rent.  Never mind that ole Stanley
went bankrupt and ended up in federal prison when the Texas boom went bust
and the banks which financed all the flimflam went bottom up. The
"gentrifiers" tore down affordable housing when they put up first-class
office space for the professional elites of Austin. All the high-class
attorneys who now run for political office are officing in air space once
the sky above affordable housing. They had better enjoy their lofty
quarters. Where they're heading has no view!



Gentrification made some  things look nice, but it shoved those who couldn't
afford the glitz out on the streets. And did anyone really care what was
happening to those who were displaced? Not really! Oh, there was rhetoric.
There is always rhetoric, especially from the politicians. But check the
records to see how much affordable housing was constructed for the displaced
working poor, let alone for the traditional homeless types.



So the traditional homeless types who had always been served by charitable
agencies like the Salvation Army were joined by the mentally ill evicted
from state institutions by highly educated professionals. These two groups
were joined by the blacks evicted from affordable housing in East Austin by
the grandees of The University of Texas system to make room for a baseball
diamond and other amenities. They were also joined by the lowest income
residents who were crowded out of affordable housing by the swelling
enrollment of a school which could have been replicated in another place
where the working poor would not have been victimized by the pretenses of
pseudo higher learning. And, of yes, the victims of gentrification had to
crowd in, too.



Now it is a fact that all these victims did not end up at the Salvation Army
or on the streets. Many, in fear of living on the streets or in the
dormitory of Austin's Salvation Army which developed all the qualities of a
BFI garbage compactor, chose the alternative: they crowded in with a friend
on relative and have lived since at commuter distances from school or job.
Not, of course, in Rob Roy or Cat Mountain. Those views, again, are for
Austin's elite.



While all this was going on during the middle and late 1980s, Austin's city
officials were busy promoting themselves and the development of East Sixth
Street. Never mind that the Salvation Army had to locate earlier on East
Eighth Street because no other neighborhood in the city would allow a
homeless shelter within its boundaries. Austin's city officials, guardians
of the public's welfare, decided to pour millions into turning the short
stroll from a homeless facility into a tourist attraction. Smart, eh? Bars
galore, all within blocks of a shelter for down and outers. Wasn't that
smart! And then they have the gall to complain about homeless people
panhandling the rich drunks who drive home loaded. Who are the criminals?



Do you think city officials were equally concerned about promoting the
development of affordable housing? Think again. There was more concern about
paving over the aquifer or ending the life of some insect in Barton Springs
than there was for providing adequate affordable housing in Austin.



The homeless had to tough it through the early 1990s. Austin became the
place to live if you were working in the high tech industry. The influx of
people earning high salaries and able to pay high rents compounded the
struggle of lower wage earners to find housing. And the homeless were even
criminalized by the City Council for sleeping in parks or on public benches.
Police were dispatched to tear now tents and to destroy campsites. Austin
declared war on the homeless. Brave warriors!



For several years, I was out of Austin on other business. I didn't return
until 1995. I was shocked by what I found. It so happened that I had become
a close friend of a blind mother and her three small children. She brought
from another community a Section 8 housing voucher. By luck, she was able to
move into an apartment in a South Austin neighborhood infested with Hispanic
gangs. Within two years, because of some difficulties with the oldest child
who had come under the influence of a gang, this mother and her children had
to move. It was in the summer of 1998. I remember it well. The mercury was
right at 100 degrees. We looked every where for an affordable apartment.
There were simply none available, even with the Section 8 voucher. I called
the Salvation Army. I was told there was a waiting list of over one hundred
names for space in their family dorm. I called every possible shelter: Casa
Marianella, churches, every organization on any list. Every agency had a
waiting list. I finally called 911. What can a blind mother with three small
children do? An Austin Police Sergeant came and sat down with me and the
mother. He called. He could find nothing. Ultimately, he asked Victim
Services to take the mother and child and find a place for them. And would
anyone believe what the Victim Services officer did? She took the blind
mother and children to a rundown motel on South Congress and told them to
rent a room if she could come up with some money. "If you can't get the
money, then the only place you can go is the Greyhound Bus Station." So help
me God, that is exactly what this officer of the City of Austin Police
Department told a homeless blind mother and three small children.



It was at that point that I became enraged. The City of Austin with its
flagship university, with its gentrified central city, with its posh
suburban residential spreads, with its governmental officials promoting the
"live music capital of the world." A bench in the Greyhound Bus Station for
a blind woman with three small children? And do you think I could get the
Mayor of Austin, Kirk Watson, to talk to me? Do you think I could get
straight talk from the City Manager and his highly paid assistants? I got
double talk and the bum's rush. I had to threaten to immolate myself on the
steps of City Hall to get even one councilperson to express concern.



And I turned to that paragon of conservative compassion, the then governor
of Texas, George W. Bush. I asked for help, and I got back a letter
suggesting that if I was so concerned about helping the homeless, I should
volunteer to work at a shelter. When I asked him to urge the Mayor of Austin
to open up emergency shelters for all the families on the Salvation Army
waiting list, including the blind mother and her three children, I was told
by him in a second letter that Austin's homeless problem was not "his"
concern and there was nothing he could do about it, not even to talk to
Austin's mayor. He was, of course, running for President of the United
States by then. He had more important matters on his mind than a homeless
blind mother of three being referred to a bus station for housing. At that
time, he earned in perpetuity my disrespect and distrust. I know what kind
of compassion George II really has!



By the grace of God and not through any reliable, sustained help from state
officials or Austin's city government, I finally managed to find a home for
the blind mother and her three children. Her Section 8 voucher had expired
long before because no affordable housing where she could use it could be
found. That's the Catch 22. Even with federal funding, many homeless cannot
find housing in Austin. How did she get off the streets. I lied! I certified
she meet the income requirements. And we paid the manager of a substandard
apartment complex $500 a month for a one-bedroom unit. The only amenity is
an on-site dumpster. No laundry, no pool, no community room, no nada. And
she has been there ever since. One bedroom: $500 a month!



Helping that woman find shelter in Austin exhausted me. It also broke my
heart. It caused me to despise public officials who take care of themselves
and waffle when it is time to take action to help those in dire
circumstances. It caused me to laugh when I heard the slogan "compassionate
conservative." And when the Mayor of Austin and his colleagues busted their
butts to build a new City Hall before they built more housing for the
homeless, I lost all regard for Austin.



I hear stories that there are plans now to provide adequate shelter for the
homeless in Austin. I hear now stories there are no waiting lists at
existing shelters. And I hear Kirk Watson is seeking higher elective office.
And I am watching on CNN the former Governor of Texas denouncing terrorists.
Yeah! Pardon me while I vomit!



House the homeless, Austin! House the homeless, America! Declare a war on
homelessness! Stop terrorizing those who are homeless!






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<DIV><BR></DIV>
<DIV class=3DSection1>
<P class=3DMsoTitle><B style=3D"mso-bidi-font-weight: normal"><FONT=20
face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D5><SPAN style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 18pt"><SPAN=20
style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Austin and the=20
Homeless</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></B></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal style=3D"TEXT-ALIGN: center" align=3Dcenter><FONT=20
face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal style=3D"TEXT-ALIGN: center" align=3Dcenter><FONT=20
face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN=20
style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">A few final comments from Tony=20
Hearn</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">Because I have=20
seen my name mentioned in a few messages on the Internet which have been =

concerned about Austin politics and how homeless persons have fared in =
that city=20
in the past as well as currently, I would like offer a few comments so =
that my=20
involvement then and now is clarified for the benefit of those who =
continue to=20
use my name.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">To =
my=20
knowledge, there have always been homeless persons drifting through =
Austin as=20
well as any other city in America. Prodigals happen. Luck fails. =
Wanderlust=20
bites. Domestic discord disrupts. People find themselves on the street. =
For=20
decades in Austin as around the nation, persons who found they had no =
place to=20
call home could and would look to traditional charitable organizations =
like the=20
Salvation Army for =93soup and soap=94 and counsel about =
=93salvation.=94 In some=20
cities, there has been more than one organization which provided =
assistance. For=20
instance, in Houston there has been the Star of Hope mission in addition =
to the=20
=93Sally.=94 In New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, there are several =
missions to=20
aid the down and outers. Though the problem of homelessness was real to =
those=20
without an address, it was not a social =93issue.=94 Well-meaning souls =
devoted to=20
helping the poor kept the topic out of the public=92s mind except at =
Christmas=20
when the kettles and the jingle of bells reminded everyone of the =
homeless poor.=20
</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">Yet, for a=20
number of complex reasons, the number of homeless persons since the =
1980s has=20
increased dramatically, in Austin, as well as around the nation. The =
number of=20
homeless, in fact, has soared.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The =
traditional=20
social service organizations like the Salvation Army have had to contend =
with=20
the swelling number of persons needing assistance as well as to adapt =
their=20
programs to address expectations placed upon them by their local =
communities.=20
What was once considered a mission to those who needed spiritual =
direction as=20
well as emergency material aid became almost overnight a =
quasi-governmental=20
welfare agency to which public dollars were doled out with the direction =
that=20
the reeling charities were to open their dormitories to warehouse anyone =
anytime=20
from off the streets. =93And, heaven forbid, don=92t mention =
=91salvation=92 or the ACLU=20
will get you!=94</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">Being a=20
journalist by training and having been concerned and involved with the =
homeless=20
by personal conviction, I know the way things developed in Austin in the =
1980s=20
and onward until 2000. (I won=92t mention that sociology as an academic =
field grew=20
out of journalism more than a century ago, from coverage of Hull House =
in=20
Chicago.) So I am going to limit my comments to homelessness in Austin, =
because=20
I know what I am commenting about. Others can comment on homelessness=20
elsewhere.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">In =
Austin,=20
beginning in the early 1980s, homelessness became an item on the City =
Council=92s=20
agenda for three primary reasons. To start, reason one: the State of =
Texas=20
decided to close down its asylums housing the mentally ill rather than =
upgrade=20
them to humane conditions. Mental health professionals sold Texas =
Legislators on=20
a less expensive solution to caring for the insane. Their plan: drug the =

mentally ill with new behavior modifying substances and send them out =
into=20
society where they would be cared for in idyllic group homes in cities =
across=20
the state. One-way Greyhound bus tickets were handed out by state =
officials to=20
the mentally ill to empty out the Austin State Hospital. And not just a =
few of=20
the state mental health professionals bought up rundown large houses and =

converted them into group homes, billing the state for becoming =
landlords to=20
those they flushed from substandard state-owned dorms. Oh, yes, let=92s =
not forget=20
how our State Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation filled =
up the=20
benches along Congress Avenue. And where have many, many persons hanging =
out at=20
Austin=92s Salvation Army come from? Good ole MHMR! Their former inmates =
might=20
have been crazy, but they were not stupid! They didn=92t and still =
don=92t want to=20
live in rundown group homes barely staffed by incompetent and/or often =
cruel=20
=93sitters=94 where the only therapy is a blaring television. So they =
wandered and=20
still roam the streets and hang out with their peers at the Salvation =
Army and=20
other care-providing agencies. They wander in the parks and forage =
through the=20
trash bins for diversion. So, thanks to MHMR and our State Legislature,=20
authentically homeless persons with a full deck were infiltrated with =
our city=92s=20
share of Texas=92 crazies. (Is there a more polite way of phrasing=20
it?)</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The =
second=20
primary reason for the increase in homelessness in Austin in the early =
1980 was=20
the misguided policy of the state=92s most prestigious educational =
institution:=20
the University of Texas. For a group of persons who are supposed to be =
so smart,=20
those running UT did a dumb thing; they decided to turn the school into =
a=20
mega-university which meant that a major expansion of facilities had to =
happen.=20
It had to happen in the heart of an established neighborhood. I remember =
it=20
well. I went to a court hearing in the Stokes Annex where several blacks =
who had=20
defied eviction from affordable housing in East Austin were on trial. =
Oh, yes! I=20
remember. Vice Chancellor Edwin Sharpe, then a vice president, was =
there. He was=20
the one who gave the order for bulldozers to level countless houses =
where the=20
poor lived just east of Interstate 35. My black friends did time and =
paid fines=20
for trying to save houses. Ed Sharpe got a raise and a promotion. And =
Austin got=20
a world-class baseball diamond. (Is there a more polite way of phrasing=20
it?)<SPAN style=3D"mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; =
</SPAN></SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">And, by the=20
way, why didn=92t UT build all that jazz out in Manor or Bastrop? I=92ll =
tell you=20
why. Arrogance, Plain and simple. Those bubbas think =93big=94 has =
something to do=20
with academic excellence. That=92s why they continue to expand UT like a =
bloated=20
beer belly. Packing all the new students into Austin had quite an impact =
on=20
affordable housing, too. To meet the housing needs of the expanding =
student=20
body, older affordable housing was demolished and stylish new apartments =
and=20
condos were constructed in their place for students living off their =
daddies=92=20
money. And the new students who couldn=92t afford to live in such =
elegant digs dug=20
into their pockets and came up with student loan money to pay the higher =
rents=20
of the remaining affordable housing. And guess where that left the =
working poor?=20
You guessed it, Austin! Our grand University of Texas and its arrogant =
boosters=20
shoved them right out on the street. Thanks to UT officials and all the =
bubbas=20
who haven=92t the brains of Bevo!</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The =
third=20
reason for the increase in homelessness in Austin in the 1980s was the =
greed of=20
the =93let=92s get richer=94 crowd. It was men like former Governor John =
Connally and=20
his clone Ben Barnes and dozens of others who borrowed other peoples=92 =
money and=20
created a land boom. The buzz word was =93gentrification.=94 Tear down =
anything that=20
looks old, throw up a high rise, and soak the tenants. But, of course, =
first=20
sell the shell for a ransom. So Austin, like the rest of Texas, was =
raped by the=20
real estate speculators. I remember it well. Anyone remember the Alamo? =
The=20
Alamo Hotel, that is! Ole Stanley Adams bought the Alamo Hotel at West =
Sixth and=20
Guadalupe. And he tore it down intending to put up a monument to his =
greed and=20
his shaky Lamar Financial Corp. The Alamo Hotel for years had been home =
to poor=20
transients and those who could only afford flophouse rent.<SPAN=20
style=3D"mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>Never mind that ole Stanley =
went=20
bankrupt and ended up in federal prison when the Texas boom went bust =
and the=20
banks which financed all the flimflam went bottom up. The =
=93gentrifiers=94 tore=20
down affordable housing when they put up first-class office space for =
the=20
professional elites of Austin. All the high-class attorneys who now run =
for=20
political office are officing in air space once the sky above affordable =

housing. They had better enjoy their lofty quarters. Where they=92re =
heading has=20
no view! </SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">Gentrification=20
made some<SPAN style=3D"mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>things look =
nice, but it=20
shoved those who couldn=92t afford the glitz out on the streets. And did =
anyone=20
really care what was happening to those who were displaced? Not really! =
Oh,=20
there was rhetoric. There is always rhetoric, especially from the =
politicians.=20
But check the records to see how much affordable housing was constructed =
for the=20
displaced working poor, let alone for the traditional homeless=20
types.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">So =
the=20
traditional homeless types who had always been served by charitable =
agencies=20
like the Salvation Army were joined by the mentally ill evicted from =
state=20
institutions by highly educated professionals. These two groups were =
joined by=20
the blacks evicted from affordable housing in East Austin by the =
grandees of The=20
University of Texas system to make room for a baseball diamond and other =

amenities. They were also joined by the lowest income residents who were =
crowded=20
out of affordable housing by the swelling enrollment of a school which =
could=20
have been replicated in another place where the working poor would not =
have been=20
victimized by the pretenses of<SPAN style=3D"mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;=20
</SPAN>pseudo higher learning. And, of yes, the victims of =
gentrification had to=20
crowd in, too.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Now =
it is a=20
fact that all these victims did not end up at the Salvation Army or on =
the=20
streets. Many, in fear of living on the streets or in the dormitory of =
Austin=92s=20
Salvation Army which developed all the qualities of a BFI garbage =
compactor,=20
chose the alternative: they crowded in with a friend on relative and =
have lived=20
since at commuter distances from school or job. Not, of course, in Rob =
Roy or=20
Cat Mountain. Those views, again, are for Austin=92s=20
elite.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">While all this=20
was going on during the middle and late 1980s, Austin=92s city officials =
were busy=20
promoting themselves and the development of East Sixth Street. Never =
mind that=20
the Salvation Army had to locate earlier on East Eighth Street because =
no other=20
neighborhood in the city would allow a homeless shelter within its =
boundaries.=20
Austin=92s city officials, guardians of the public=92s welfare, decided =
to pour=20
millions into turning the short stroll from a homeless facility into a =
tourist=20
attraction. Smart, eh? Bars galore, all within blocks of a shelter for =
down and=20
outers. Wasn=92t that smart! And then they have the gall to complain =
about=20
homeless people panhandling the rich drunks who drive home loaded. Who =
are the=20
criminals?</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Do =
you think=20
city officials were equally concerned about promoting the development of =

affordable housing? Think again. There was more concern about paving =
over the=20
aquifer or ending the life of some insect in Barton Springs than there =
was for=20
providing adequate affordable housing in =
Austin.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The =
homeless=20
had to tough it through the early 1990s. Austin became the place to live =
if you=20
were working in the high tech industry. The influx of people earning =
high=20
salaries and able to pay high rents compounded the struggle of lower =
wage=20
earners to find housing. And the homeless were even criminalized by the =
City=20
Council for sleeping in parks or on public benches. Police were =
dispatched to=20
tear now tents and to destroy campsites. Austin declared war on the =
homeless.=20
Brave warriors!</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">For =
several=20
years, I was out of Austin on other business. I didn=92t return until =
1995. I was=20
shocked by what I found. It so happened that I had become a close friend =
of a=20
blind mother and her three small children. She brought from another =
community a=20
Section 8 housing voucher. By luck, she was able to move into an =
apartment in a=20
South Austin neighborhood infested with Hispanic gangs. Within two =
years,=20
because of some difficulties with the oldest child who had come under =
the=20
influence of a gang, this mother and her children had to move. It was in =
the=20
summer of 1998. I remember it well. The mercury was right at 100 =
degrees. We=20
looked every where for an affordable apartment. There were simply none=20
available, even with the Section 8 voucher. I called the Salvation Army. =
I was=20
told there was a waiting list of over one hundred names for space in =
their=20
family dorm. I called every possible shelter: Casa Marianella, churches, =
every=20
organization on any list. Every agency had a waiting list. I finally =
called 911.=20
What can a blind mother with three small children do? An Austin Police =
Sergeant=20
came and sat down with me and the mother. He called. He could find =
nothing.=20
Ultimately, he asked Victim Services to take the mother and child and =
find a=20
place for them. And would anyone believe what the Victim Services =
officer did?=20
She took the blind mother and children to a rundown motel on South =
Congress and=20
told them to rent a room if she could come up with some money. =93If you =
can=92t get=20
the money, then the only place you can go is the Greyhound Bus =
Station.=94 So help=20
me God, that is exactly what this officer of the City of Austin Police=20
Department told a homeless blind mother and three small=20
children.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">It =
was at that=20
point that I became enraged. The City of Austin with its flagship =
university,=20
with its gentrified central city, with its posh suburban residential =
spreads,=20
with its governmental officials promoting the =93live music capital of =
the world.=94=20
A bench in the Greyhound Bus Station for a blind woman with three small=20
children? And do you think I could get the Mayor of Austin, Kirk Watson, =
to talk=20
to me? Do you think I could get straight talk from the City Manager and =
his=20
highly paid assistants? I got double talk and the bum=92s rush. I had to =
threaten=20
to immolate myself on the steps of City Hall to get even one =
councilperson to=20
express concern. </SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">And =
I turned to=20
that paragon of conservative compassion, the then governor of Texas, =
George W.=20
Bush. I asked for help, and I got back a letter suggesting that if I was =
so=20
concerned about helping the homeless, I should volunteer to work at a =
shelter.=20
When I asked him to urge the Mayor of Austin to open up emergency =
shelters for=20
all the families on the Salvation Army waiting list, including the blind =
mother=20
and her three children, I was told by him in a second letter that =
Austin=92s=20
homeless problem was not =93his=94 concern and there was nothing he =
could do about=20
it, not even to talk to Austin=92s mayor. He was, of course, running for =
President=20
of the United States by then. He had more important matters on his mind =
than a=20
homeless blind mother of three being referred to a bus station for =
housing. At=20
that time, he earned <I><SPAN style=3D"FONT-STYLE: italic">in=20
perpetuity</SPAN></I> my disrespect and distrust. I know what kind of =
compassion=20
George II really has!</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">By =
the grace of=20
God and not through any reliable, sustained help from state officials or =

Austin=92s city government, I finally managed to find a home for the =
blind mother=20
and her three children. Her Section 8 voucher had expired long before =
because no=20
affordable housing where she could use it could be found. That=92s the =
Catch 22.=20
Even with federal funding, many homeless cannot find housing in Austin. =
How did=20
she get off the streets. I lied! I certified she meet the income =
requirements.=20
And we paid the manager of a substandard apartment complex $500 a month =
for a=20
one-bedroom unit. The only amenity is an on-site dumpster. No laundry, =
no pool,=20
no community room, no nada. And she has been there ever since. One =
bedroom: $500=20
a month!</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">Helping that=20
woman find shelter in Austin exhausted me. It also broke my heart. It =
caused me=20
to despise public officials who take care of themselves and waffle when =
it is=20
time to take action to help those in dire circumstances. It caused me to =
laugh=20
when I heard the slogan =93compassionate conservative.=94 And when the =
Mayor of=20
Austin and his colleagues busted their butts to build a new City Hall =
before=20
they built more housing for the homeless, I lost all regard for=20
Austin.</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I =
hear stories=20
that there are plans now to provide adequate shelter for the homeless in =
Austin.=20
I hear now stories there are no waiting lists at existing shelters. And =
I hear=20
Kirk Watson is seeking higher elective office. And I am watching on CNN =
the=20
former Governor of Texas denouncing terrorists. Yeah! Pardon me while I=20
vomit!</SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt">House the=20
homeless, Austin! House the homeless, America! Declare a war on =
homelessness!=20
Stop terrorizing those who are homeless!<SPAN=20
style=3D"mso-spacerun: =
yes">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;=20
</SPAN></SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><![if =
!supportEmptyParas]><![endif]>&nbsp;</SPAN><o:p></o:p></FONT></P>
<P class=3DMsoNormal><FONT face=3D"Times New Roman" size=3D4><SPAN=20
style=3D"FONT-SIZE: 14pt"><SPAN style=3D"mso-bidi-font-size: =
12.0pt"><SPAN=20
style=3D"mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;=20
</SPAN></SPAN></SPAN></FONT></P></DIV></BODY></HTML>

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