On May 1, 2021 a political action committee convinced voters to pass an ordinance forcing the City of Austin to ticket people who violate the ‘no camping ordinance’ within the city limits. This was contrary to guidelines by the Center for Disease Control which recommended that communities leave people alone to shelter in place until the pandemic is passed, or take advantage of the FEMA and other recovery programs to pay for hotel rooms for the population. NCH has documented 40 of the 100 largest cities has also undertaken sweeps over the last year contrary to CDC guidelines. The City began warning people to leave their tents in June and then began ticketing people in July.
Proposition B was passed in a special election with only 20% of the voters actually bothering to show up. The dubiously named “Save Austin Now” PAC spent $1.9 million to convince Austin voters to be afraid of people who are unhoused. The legislation also demanded a crackdown on panhandling, despite sweeping judicial protection of the right panhandle. So, a deeply flawed law which violates the constitution and basic humanity for those struggling during a pandemic passed by voters and implemented by local law enforcement began to make criminals out of those who lost their housing in one of the most expensive places to live in the South.
A number of Austin-based groups led by people who have experienced homelessness reached out and asked for help from the National Coalition for the Homeless. We worked with local groups to draft this national sign-on letter, asking for the Austin city officials to act in favor of humanity and refuse to further criminalize people for having nowhere to go. We are not taking additional endorsements at this time. If you have questions, please e-mail them to email@example.com
There is news that the Orwellian-sounding Save Austin Now, along with four local businesses, were filing suit against the City of Austin for not enforcing Proposition B against enough unhoused people. The City has denied the charges stating that 18 tickets were issued over the last month. The City of Austin has attempted to place more of the unhoused into hotels, but has not used much of their HUD emergency assistance to give housing relief to those struggling because of the pandemic. In an attempt to pile on, the state also passed HB 1925 which prevents local government from not enforcing anti-camping ordinances.
The millions that have been spent in this effort to criminalize people for being poor by the Texas government and governor, as well as “Save Austin Now” political action committee could have been much better used in ensuring safe, accessible housing for Austin residents!!
After the Peachtree-Pine Shelter was forced by the city of Atlanta to close its doors in 2017, Anita Beaty has remained dedicated to activist efforts in the homeless community, continuing her decades-long career advocating and providing for those in need. Beaty, who oversaw the Peachtree-Pine Shelter for twenty years, has worked in the homeless community for much longer, her history of activism stretching as far back as the eighties. Whether it was activism or overseeing the shelter, Beaty consistently abided by a philosophy that no one should be left behind or left out. She has always placed high value on “letting the people who needed the service run the service,” and described how this philosophy of care for others informed her activism through the years.
In one story, Beaty described a march she organized every year for twenty-nine years to celebrate homeless memorial day on November 1st. Various shelters, congregational groups, or other facilities would carry banners representing their group, made in the Peachtree-Pine art studio, along with a procession of crosses with the names of homeless people who had died that year. Each year, she recalled, there would be around 60 to 80 crosses. The procession finished at the Cathedral, where there would be a ceremony addressing the issue of homelessness, with a Litany created by the Task Force, and remembrances of the dead, name by name.
Beaty and her organization, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, would hire buses to pick people up at every shelter that would participate, and the cathedral served them a hot meal. Looking back, Beaty recalled the event with fondness for the community it fostered.
Beaty also reflected that a key component of her personal philosophy was an element of playfulness. “I need to enjoy what I do,” she said. In one story she recounted, Beaty and the Task Force were protesting the improvement project the city of Atlanta was undertaking at Woodruff Park prior to their hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics. The park had been a gathering place for members of the homeless community, so when the mayor of Atlanta showed up in a hard hat for a photo-op groundbreaking on the construction, several of the protestors laid in the hole the mayor was to stand in, completely preventing their chance at a photo-op. Beaty chuckled as she recalled how the mayor’s face turned purple with rage, and when he retreated to his car the protestors followed, and it looked as if he was the one leading the march. Beaty also recalled a city council meeting they attended, when she handed out signs to everyone with them that said “true,” “false,” and “bald-faced lie.” When one of the council members said something about homelessness, the crowd held up their “bald-faced lie” signs, and Beaty recalled it was “hysterical” as the council member tried to talk down the signs.
The visual arts have always been a major part of Beaty’s activism. During her time as its leader, Beaty opened an art studio at Peachtree-Pine, where shelter residents could come to draw, paint, and be creative. Beaty sometimes brought in artists from around the country, especially artists who had been homeless or experienced similar struggles. They “had a ball with us,” she remembered. “It was so exciting to intentionally bring in like-minded people who can show folks who’ve been excluded from all that that they, too, can dream.” Beaty emphasized that giving shelter residents access to resources that they would not otherwise have access to was a way of lifting them up: “There are artists who don’t even know it, don’t have the leisure to explore that, or could become artists and become part of that culture.” Beaty’s art studio is living proof that art has the power to bring out the best in people who are experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, or other problems. Not only that, Beaty noted that putting shelter residents’ work on display helped to bust public stereotypes about them.
“Let’s break the mythology,” she said. “Let’s take care of the fear by being together in fun places: food, art, coffee.”
Beaty is sure to acknowledge that activist efforts do not always turn out the way we hope they will. When she took part in the Housing Now March on Washington in 1989, she recalls the immense expectations they had: “It was an action that we thought was gonna change the world, change this country at least, and sensitize the policymakers to the absolute necessity of changing laws,” she remembered. Obviously, the march did not have the effect Beaty and its organizers hoped it would. The funding of a growing homelessness services “industry” was a direct result, but the right to housing, permanent affordable accessible housing, was then and is still the emergency need.
But Beaty also believes the march did make a difference, even if it wasn’t on the wide scale she had hoped it would. “Success is relative,” she said, recalling many times when she thought an effort she was part of was more successful than it was. But activism can still be successful, even if it’s in the smallest of ways. One outcome that Beaty pointed out from the Housing Now March was HUD policy, which, she says, she is still looking at to determine how it has evolved over the decades since the march.
Beaty’s long career in activism shows us that success, whether small or large, can be found through determination to make a difference and a passion for celebrating inclusion. It is the stories of activists like Beaty that have the most to teach us about how to make change happen, and Beaty’s stories remind us that change happens in and with communities, leaving no one behind, including the excluded in operating, managing, and developing of all services designated for those very people, and working together to foster a just and creative world.
The National Coalition for the Homeless released its annual report on bias-motivated violence against people experiencing homelessness on December 21, 20 Years of Hate, outlines the 39 lethal attacks and the 44 non-lethal attacks that occurred in 2018 and 2019 throughout the United States. December 21st also marks 30 years of remembering the deaths of people experiencing homelessness through Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
The report discusses the structural violence that has created endemic poverty, and proposes legislative solutions to lawmakers and advocates working to protect people experiencing homelessness from violence. Combining statistics and narratives, 20 Years of Hate provides an in-depth look at the types of crimes homeless individuals experienced in 2018 and 2019, from police brutality to stabbings. The report breaks down lethal and non-lethal crimes by state, and each crime is documented by city, date, and description.
The report will be released on December 21, 2020, which commemorates the 30th Annual National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a remembrance of those who have passed away during the year while unhoused. Events will be held nationwide to remember thousands who may not have had memorial services. A growing number of cities have been releasing annual reports on the number of community members who have died while homeless. 20 years of Hate only documents a fraction of these deaths. As the National Health Care for the Homeless Council points out, life expectancy for someone who is homeless can be 20-30 years younger than the general population. The National Coalition for the Homeless has estimated that annually, there are 13,000 individuals who die on our streets. The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council have partnered with groups around the country to create a Mortality Toolkit now available to help give a more accurate count of those who have perished on the streets of America.
This year’s 20 Years of Hate report marks the 20th year the National Coalition for the Homeless has analyzed bias-motivated violence that leads to many deaths among the homeless community. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has documented increases in reported Hate Crimes against federally protected classes since the 2016 elections. The numbers of attacks reported against people experiencing homelessness have decreased during this time. It is likely that as political views have bifurcated, bias against federally-protected classes has become more accepted or promoted in the mainstream culture. Still, the data collected by the National Coalition for the Homeless demonstrates that bias-motivated violence against homeless persons continues to be highly prevalent in our communities.
California saw the most crimes against people experiencing homelessness in 2018 and 2019. Often considered ground zero for homelessness, Los Angeles, in particular, saw almost 10% of overall incidents recorded, from acid attacks and video-taped stabbings to police officers murdering a homeless man after a noise complaint. There is a clear correlation between the growing visible presence of homelessness, as occurs in Los Angeles, and the number and severity of attacks from housed persons.
Federal and local legislation could help to prevent bias-motivated violence against people experiencing homelessness, adding housing status as a protected class under hate crimes statutes or vulnerable victims sentencing guidelines. However, as evident from the crimes outlined in 20 Years of Hate, a cultural shift is needed to change how US society treats and values our homeless population, in order to prevent hate crimes and to build healthy and compassionate communities.