The below testimony was originally published on Facebook. We have added emphasis, and other readability edits. The Austin area activist who posted the testimony said about the writer,
“This young woman is exceptional, and has lived thru a darker hell than most could even imagine. I admire her strength and poise and intelligence and she is what I fight for everyday. These silenced voices, the woman who disappear, the men who become criminals with wounded hearts, the mentally ill and physically disabled, the youngest and oldest and most vulnerable are why I get up every day. The second and now third generation unhoused community members here in one of the wealthiest most beautiful cities in America are the people I meet every day. Her voice should be heard. This was written by a young woman named Whitley from a small town Mississippi, who is experiencing homelessness here in Austin.
After a season of suffering, I really wouldn’t ever wish [this] on anybody, I lived under this bridge between those pillars. I was blessed enough to be the only one who was able to secure transitional housing by sheer luck of the stars and God allowing the right people in my circle that cared.
A few weeks later the Prop B/HB1925 sweeps (Austin’s voter initiative to force enforcement of the anti-camping ban) took place from encampments from Great Hills all the way up to Lake Creek.
The folks in these encampments, my own people, [faced] panic, shock, defeat and total and complete loss as they were told [the news of a sweep] after being previously promised by officials [that] they would also be given rehousing in the HEAL Initiative hotels. City of Austin Government [developed alternatives] for the sweeps (to which many were excited)… only to learn these sweeps were initiated by Office of the Governor Greg Abbott who were offering no less traumatic alternatives.
There were no counselors or social workers [offered by the Governor]. There were no trauma informed police officers. There were no non profit organizations [sent to offer help]. There was only myself and two ride or die’s J Chain, and S R Love (Austin Mutual Aid) there to assist or offer any support at all whatsoever. I just happened to catch word of the sweeps around an hour after they began and ran into the [two outreach workers] myself on a bike.
I watched my people weep, scream, protest, deflate into defeated hopelessness. [They] carried what they could carry of the only belongings they had left in this world to adjacent medians and [the] gas station parking lots. [Everything they owned were] in tents under overpasses to begin with because they had nowhere to go and no resources to resolve [their housing situation].
Some were elderly, some disabled, some were veterans of war, some were teens, some were developmentally disabled, some physically handicapped, and most experienced some sort if not many instances of severe trauma in their life [while living under the overpass]. ALL suffered from some form of mental ILLNESS.
All of them watched as a trash compactor destroyed their very homes and most of [their worldly] belongings.
All of them were human beings, just like you reading this right now.
I called the Mayor’s Pro Tem Alison Alter/City Council (This is the District 10 City Council member in Austin and this is what she lists as her priorities: managing growth responsibly, protecting open and green spaces, addressing transportation challenges, promoting transparent and effective government, investing in our children, and fostering civic engagement) myself and spoke to a secretary demanding answers and accountability [while I was] in tears. She was kind, but essentially the [City Council] and HEAL initiative were clueless to the sweeps even taking place at all. There apparently is no form of communication or plans in place between the state and city regarding camping bans and their subsequent sweeps.
[The outreach teams and I] picked up the City’s and the State’s slack where [we could by finding] storage space for belongings that could be packed up. We bought as many tents and camp gear and food and hygiene as we could. We made sandwiches on the tailgate as 6pm and scoured the earth trying to track folks down [everyone displaced] to make sure they had another form of shelter. I went [back to] home to my hotel room, and I cried until my eyes were swollen shut.
Half a billion dollars in one city alone was allocated for none of these people to suffer and become re-traumatized by the city as well as the fellow constituents that failed them [by voting for this initiative.] They were already the most marginalized [in our community] and are at risk [every day by living outside]. This could have been avoided. There was ample space and resources allocated so that these people could have been GIVEN hope instead of robbed of it that day.
Since that day when my friends were pushed into woods, tunnels and gutters away from the eye of the public, [I wonder if there are] organizations that still care enough to help? I’ve witnessed [the trauma] personally including helping to rescue over 6 overdoses. Not 1, not 2, but 3 people I shared life with and loved and cared about have died. And [none of them even] had no funeral. [These were] people who fed me and gave to me when I had NOTHING and nobody. All three are dead.
The next morning [after this sweep] on my bike ride I stopped by the pillar where my makeshift home once stood. [The place] where I was publicly heckled every day by passersby for my living in poverty and [facing insurmountable] loss. [All this caused tremendous] trauma coupled with the nine months of sexual assault left me with utter rage over the inequality and injustice of it all. It caused me to write across the city’s sign “STOP WAR ON PO’ FOLKS”.
I still pass this pillar and this sign every single day months later.
Today someone added to it, and I wept. Thank you to whoever reminded me today that God who isn’t just of love but IS love, calls the poor heirs to the kingdom of heaven. And that our suffering here for a short while made us blessed for the kingdom to come.
Praying that my God will bring leaders to this city that won’t overlook this and will do the actual kingdom work to be a TRUE “heal initiative”… or create that in me with the strength that comes with it.
*RIP to Koi and Guerro, the best Mother’s Day with the most love to mama Sherry Anne who deserved better than she was given – we will make up all the celebrations with you plus tax when you come back home. You were not forgotten today and are so loved.
NCH is calling for a Sweepless Summer.
We all want the same thing: a safe place to sleep. Stop the displacement, and invest in Housing!!