Austin, Let’s Show Up on May 1st

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“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

Margaret Wheatley

Austin is no different than any other major city dealing with homelessness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But in reality, the City Council’s decision to decriminalize homelessness in 2019 –  love it or hate it – has highlighted the gravity of the issue in our community for all to see, and we, as a community, have to decide what we care about the most. 

I don’t have all the answers, and this is not my area of expertise, but we did not listen hard enough to the advocates, social workers, and volunteers in the trenches who knew the depth of this issue. I am not sure anyone could have imagined two years ago the Austin that we see today, primarily due to the pandemic’s unforeseen circumstances. It is essential to acknowledge the simple fact that more people, including business leaders such as myself, are paying attention. Our problems are no longer being swept under the rug – and as much as it pains me to recognize it – the problem had to get to this point for us to be closer to solutions than ever before. 

But Proposition B, which is on the ballot on May 1st, has the potential to hurt this progress.  Prop B, in general, is not working towards the solution of ending homelessness. Instead, if it passes, it will bring the broom back out to sweep the mess (read: our fellow Austinites, who are unhoused) under a rug that could create lasting damage to the City of Austin. We, as a community, can no longer stand on the sidelines.  This is why I am here, in a newer space, writing about issues that affect our community.  So hear me out.

If Proposition B  were to pass, not only does it do nothing to decrease homelessness in Austin, it will harm the unhoused with reduced safety, and unnecessary fines and fees that affect their ability to get affordable housing, and the language in Proposition B  goes far beyond camping. 

Instead of hiding challenges under the rug, we must be more focused on solutions for Austinites experiencing homelessness. We must be willing to talk about the issue from all sides and perspectives with each other.  A tense or uncomfortable conversation is a lot easier than our current unhoused Austinites’ situation. So have the conversation, help champion this issue; we have to do what is necessary to get people talking about this and not avoid it.

Thinking about balancing and prioritizing business impact, perceived safety concerns, and city “cleanliness” against the lives and welfare of our brothers and our sisters experiencing homelessness isn’t an easy thing to do. Still, we owe it to ourselves to have that serious discussion. We owe it to our city, our community, and indeed to our fellow Austinites to do so. It’s these fellow Austinites whom we are demanding crawl back into the shadows, where sexual assault and illness skyrocket and life expectancy plummets.

Now that we got that out of the way, you might be asking yourself, Is it even possible to  “fix” homelessness?

Fixing homelessness does require money and resources, so I don’t want to minimize that challenge before our City and community leaders and us. If we look at Utah, back in 2015, they were touted nationwide for reducing homelessness by 90% over ten years by implementing the “Housing First” model. However, over the last few years, homelessness has been on the rise because the resources dried up, and they stopped investing in the “housing first” model. It is essential to pay attention because you might be thinking, as am I if you reduce something by 90%, how does it creep back up?

But the reality is if we got every homeless person off the street today, in 6 months from now, there might be new homeless people on the street if we didn’t change anything about our current system. Because,  according to ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), only 38% of people experiencing homelessness are chronically homeless, most of the unhoused people are just in need of help to overcome a recent hardship or disability. Therefore, one very clear thing, we have to fix the systems and provide resources for long-term solutions to decrease homelessness and maintain a system that is ready for people when they meet a life circumstance that causes them to experience homelessness. We cannot prevent the hard things in life from happening, but we can create a system to react better and help when they occur. 

And the time to work on this is now. 

The group Homes not Handcuffs shared with us that “the City and County combined will receive roughly 450 million dollars from the federal government in aid, providing the city with unprecedented liquidity to face this crisis. As quarantine hotels go offline, we now have proof of concept for converting those units into Permanent supportive housing, as well as a municipal voucher program ideal for scaling up rapid re-housing.”  – this highlights how close we are for the first time to creating solutions where we can create systems and use resources that will help Austinites when they fall into a situation that causes them to be unhoused or unemployed.  We have to vote No on Prop B. 

As a native Austinite, this is home. My wife and I are choosing to raise our family and make an impact with our organization, Notley. We want to engage Austinites, community members, and my fellow entrepreneurs to think about what this vote means and add your voice and support to this conversation. 

So I have a few call to actions; we hope you join us in this fight: 

  • Donate to the Homes Not Handcuffs, Vote No on B campaign 
  • VOTE – this is the most important thing you and I can do. We have to show up and vote and keep our community accountable
  • Pay attention to the City’s work laid out by the Homeless Strategy Officer – here: and contact your City Council office if you need more information.

Until Next Time, 

Dan

If you’re wondering why I am interested in this, check out our homepage at The Frame Up to learn about what Notley is starting in the Social Equity space.