Rev. John Elford, senior pastor at University United Methodist, and David Guarino, of All Saints Episcopal, point out the effects of state action on homelessness in Austin.
This Thanksgiving, most of us will sit down with our loved ones for a feast in a cozy home. Outside, hundreds of our neighbors experiencing homelessness in Austin will be scrambling for a place to escape from the elements, both literal and political.
We of Austin’s faith community have frequent contact with our unsheltered neighbors, and they have taught us a great deal. They have shown that too many of us are just one or two paychecks and a run of bad luck away from the same fate. Our homeless neighbors have also taught us that we have a shared humanity that transcends circumstances.
Austin is at a critical moment in our fight to end homelessness. Recent attempts to revise the city’s old ordinances, which effectively criminalized everyday activities, brought people experiencing homelessness out of the shadows. It was hard to miss that our neighbors were suffering.
The response of the governor was to order the dismantling of encampments under state highways and provide a vacant lot off U.S. 183 as an alternative campground, far from the city’s social service and transportation hubs. As a result, many of our unhoused neighbors have been forced back to the woods, out of sight....
[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]
Commentary: This Holiday, Let's Focus on Hope for Homeless, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Building on a successful 32-year history of organizing, Austin Interfaith officially renamed and re-founded itself as Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) with over 320 leaders from Bastrop, Comal, Hays, Travis, McLennan (Waco) and Williamson counties.
Emerging leaders told impactful stories that informed a revised agenda of issues, and delegates from a 10-county region committed to a broadened identity, fundraising goals, and GOTV strategy to promote the affirmed agenda.
Last week, the New York Times highlighted a workforce training program in San Antonio called Project QUEST that helps hundreds of people every year move out of poverty and into sustainable employment. A recent analysis of the program was particularly encouraging. Nine years after entering training, participants are still experiencing high rates of employment and earning over $5,000 more annually than a similar group that didn’t participate in the program. Such outcomes are rare in workforce development programs.
The Times article came out just as AEI’s Vocation, Career, and Work research team began discussions with Capital IDEA in Austin, Texas, an organization that uses a model similar to Project QUEST. Capital IDEA has been working with low-income families in Austin for more than 20 years to move workers from low-wage to middle-skill jobs. In 2018, program graduates earned an average starting wage of $22 per hour. A previous analysis of the program has found sustained wage gains at least four years after program completion.
[Photo Credit: RealClear Policy]
In Austin, a Public/Private Partnership for Workforce Success, RealClear Policy
In a move to boost voter turnout among neglected communities, Texas IAF organizations reached into suburbs surrounding Texas’ largest cities to assemble by the thousands in political, nonpartisan assemblies to help leaders wrest commitments from candidates for state and federal office. Having witnessed candidate responses to locally-developed agendas, which span from local control to Texas school finance and federal immigration reform, leaders are now mobilizing their neighbors to Get Out The Vote.
In North Dallas, for example, two thousand DAI leaders -- many from Carrollton and Farmers Branch -- invited candidates for House Districts 114, 115, 105 and 107, and Congressional District 32, to commit to investing public funds in local labor market intermediaries, crafting immigration reform that would end the separation of children from their parents at the border (and include protections for DACA youth), cracking down on predatory lending, and repealing Senate Bill 4. Hundreds more from Austin and Hayes County challenged candidates for US Congressional Districts 25 and 21, and State House Districts 47, 45 and 136 to publicly pledge support for similar priorities, including the defense of local control over municipal housing and labor policy. In Helotes, just outside of San Antonio, COPS / Metro leaders carted out boxes with thousands of postcard pledges by voters to participate in the election of US Representative for Congressional District 23, which extends to the outskirts of El Paso, and State Representative for House Districts 117 and 118. In Houston, TMO organized assemblies with candidates for US Congressional District 7 and 29; House Districts 144, 133, and 135; and Senate District 17.
Already, unpaid armies of organizational leaders have knocked on thousands of doors and called thousands more to remind supporters and voters to participate in the midterm elections. Last weekend, for example, Austin Interfaith leaders knocked on doors in three counties, four legislative districts and 2 congressional districts. This weekend, all Texas IAF organizations are making a final push -- from the pews, inside health clinics and in long-neglected neighborhoods -- to ensure the highest turnout possible in support of their agenda.
Leaders understand that targeted voter engagement efforts following accountability assemblies help advance their agenda. This year alone, local Texas IAF organizations succeeded in raising municipal wage floors in San Antonio and Austin to $15 per hour; leveraging the support of Chief of Police Art Acevedo to make Houston the first city in Texas to support a gun safety strategy; and preventing unnecessary deportations through widespread adoption of identification cards generated by parishes within the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
Candidates Share Platform at Assembly, Austin American Statesman
Why Dallas Republicans Skipped an Interfaith Forum, Rewire.News
DAI Accountability Forum [Video]
Four years after launching living wage campaigns in their respective cities, COPS/Metro and Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated hard won hikes in the lowest wages paid to municipal workers in both San Antonio and Austin. This week, both cities become the first in Texas to set a $15/hour wage floor for city workers. In Austin, this new standard additionally applies to contracted workers, part-time and temporary workers AND to employees of private businesses receiving economic incentives (more in next section).
Leaders also leverage increased city investments in long-term workforce development ($2.4 Million for Capital IDEA and $2.2 Million for Project QUEST) plus affordable housing (San Antonio). Bexar County announced that they, too, would pay their lowest earning employees at least $15/hour. Austin leaders successfully intervened for programs under threat of budget cuts, including PrimeTime after-school programming and parent support specialists in the Austin Independent School District.
Press Statement, COPS/Metro Alliance
Press Statement, Austin Interfaith
San Antonio Ranked Among Nation's Highest-Poverty Cities, Rivard Report
City of San Antonio boosts municipal wages (2015)
City of Austin passes 'Living Budget' and closes labor loophole (2015)
On the eve of Labor Day weekend, Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated the protection of living wages for all jobs subsidized by City of Austin taxpayers and applauded the Austin City Council for adopting a $15 an hour living wage floor requirement as a key feature of its expanded Economic Development Incentive Program.
Says David Guarino of All Saints Episcopal Church, “Austin Interfaith recognizes Mayor Steve Adler, City Manager Spencer Cronk and the members of the City Council for hearing and acting on our concerns.”
“Tonight, the Austin City Council has set a national standard for urban economic incentive programs by recognizing that people deserve the dignity of a living wage from employers who receive economic incentives,” Guarino.
Austin Interfaith has worked years to encourage the city to implement living wage standards for city-subsidized companies.
Support Your Local and Small Businesses, Austin Chronicle
Council Considers Which Strings to Attach to Corporate Incentives, Austin Monitor [pdf]
"....on June 23, five deputies from the Sheriff's office appeared to be stationed at or near the Stoney Point community. People were stopped for speeding and DUI, which is appropriate. But they were also stopped for allegedly failing to use turn indicators, once for allegedly failing to use turn indicators within 500 feet of the intersection; for a broken or burnt out tail light; and for having mud on their license plate. These were very minor traffic infractions. To many, this appeared to be a targeted effort to locate and detain undocumented people. As previously reported, 23 Hispanics were arrested of which 13 were taken and moved into deportation proceedings.
By this action, which appears to have been against immigrants, the Sheriff has not increased people's confidence in law enforcement, which is what we had sought and strived to obtain in our prior dialogue with the Sheriff. This causes us serious concern and raises question of credibility in that dialogue...."
[Photo Credit: Ralph Barrera, Austin American Statesman]
Full Statement Here
'Zero Tolerance' Arrests Put 13 in ICE Custody, 'Had Nothing to Do With Immigration', Texas Sheriff Says, Miami Herald
El Aguacil del Condado Bastrop Rompe el Silencio Sobre el Operativo de Tránsito Donde Fueron Detenidos Varios Inmigrantes Indocumentados, Univision Austin
Bastrop Sheriff: Traffic Stop Had 'Nothing to Do with Immigration', Austin American Statesman
Faith Group Blasts Sheriff for Traffic Crackdown, Deportations, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Residents Concerned After Traffic Arrests Lead to ICE Detentions, Spectrum News
Del Valle Neighborhood On Edge After Drivers Caught in Traffic Sting Are Turned Over to ICE, KUT 90.5
Líderes Religiosos de Bastrop Cuestionan Detenciones de Inmigrantes en Operativo de Tránsito, Univision
Bastrop Interfaith Leader Speaks Out Against Deportations Stemming from Traffic Operation, KVUE
Bastrop Interfaith Exige Un Fin a la Política de Cero Tolerancia en su Condado, Telemundo
Bastrop County Sheriff Defends Traffic Enforcement Sting, KXAN
Five months before the fall election, 150 Austin Interfaith leaders gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to launch a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort targeting 10,500 Central Texas voters. After approving the AI Agenda of Issues, leaders from congregations, schools, and non-profit organizations pledged, by institution, to sign up 10,500 voters and deliver them to the polls in the fall. Signups will take place both in congregations and institutions, and through blockwalks in surrounding neighborhoods.
Over the previous five months, Austin Interfaith leaders held over 250 small group "house meetings" with 2,500 participants to understand what issues communities are facing and to identify potential leaders from those conversations. What resulted is an agenda that includes workforce development and living wages, affordability and housing, community policing and safety, infrastructure and sustainability, healthcare, education, and immigration reform.
"It was exciting: clergy, teachers, parents, congregation members, healthcare workers, and union members all coming together around a shared vision for our county and with a practical plan to make it happen. This might be the largest and most diverse volunteer group in Austin working on voter turnout this fall," said Elisa Gonzales, a leader from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church who delivered the focus statement at the Delegates Assembly.
Joining the Austin Interfaith Delegates Assembly yesterday were representatives from the organization's expansion projects in Hays, Bastrop, Williamson, and Western Travis County, who are planning similar efforts in their communities. "We are one Central Texas community spanning many counties. We need to organize around a shared vision for the whole region," said Gary Duck, a Co-Chair of the event from St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Williamson County.
After hearing from immigrants about their reluctance to report crime, including domestic violence, for fear of being detained, Bastrop Interfaith leaders initiated a conversation with Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook about community safety, including improved communications between the Sheriff’s Department and the community. Leaders will soon meet with Bastrop County’s Crime Prevention Deputy and Victims Services Coordinator in order to advance the conversation.
In previous house meetings, residents of Stony Point had identified trash in their neighborhood as an issue of concern. Leaders worked with Bastrop County Judge Pape, helping leverage a county-funded free clean up day last fall. It proved so popular that resident leaders negotiated a second clean up, held the first weekend of June. Over 40 people hauled pickup loads of trash to the dumpsters, some making several trips! Bastrop Interfaith leaders used the opportunity to talk to people while they waited in line, to better understand their concerns and to include them in upcoming house meetings.
60 Austin Interfaith leaders packed into Austin City Council Chambers for a hearing on CodeNEXT to support speakers Florence Briceno from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic and Rev. Michael Floyd from All Saints Episcopal who testified for strong neighborhoods and affordability, and against displacement.