Homeless in Texas

"They're just pushing us away": Austin residents talk about homeless life as Gov. Abbott's deadline to move approaches

Homeless residents in the state's capital took varied paths to end up without shelter. And some who have found homes still return to homeless encampments to check in on friends.

Residents of tents outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless have to make sure their tents are in legal camping sites, but many aren't sure what that means.

As Gov. Greg Abbott and Austin Mayor Steve Adler have waged a social media war about how to deal with homeless people in the state's capital, Texans who don't have shelter have gone about their daily lives in tents and under highway overpasses. The Texas Tribune spoke to several homeless residents in recent weeks to hear about life without a home. Here, they share their stories in their own words.

Bill Taban, a Sudanese immigrant, left his country 19 years ago during a civil war. He says aging in the streets is the most challenging aspect of homelessness.

Bill Taban

Bill Taban wakes up early each morning hoping to earn money from Austin’s rush hour. He lives under an overpass and washes windows at the nearest intersection as an alternative to typical panhandling.

Fleeing a bloody Sudanese civil war, Taban came to the U.S. as a child with his mother. Taban said he could never truly establish himself because it’s been hard to acclimate to American customs. He said he’s frequently faced charges for sleeping in certain places.

Jolie Fifer (right) is hopeful that she will find a job and stable housing. She'd eventually like to be a teacher. She lives with her boyfriend, "Black," and dog, Prince.

Jolie Fifer

Jolie Fifer, 21, said she was kicked out of a relative’s home after experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder and has been homeless since. Her boyfriend, who’s known as “Black,” taught her to live on the streets. The two live under Interstate 35 in Austin with Fifer’s dog, Prince.

Fifer wants to secure permanent housing and find a job working with children. She is inspired by her grandmother, who was a teacher.

Harvest (right) lives under a State Highway 71 overpass. Herman Rux, who was homeless in the 1980s, still visits encampments.

Harvest

Harvest asked that her full name not be used because she fears being targeted by others experiencing homelessness. She said most homeless people have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. The 37-year-old said trauma in her life drove her from her family’s home and made it difficult to hold down a job.

Harvest lives in a tent, where she tries to accumulate extra supplies and provide some medical care for other homeless residents. She said being a homeless woman poses hygiene and safety challenges.

Harold Hicks (left) visits Austin residents experiencing homelessness with his wife, Gypsy. He used to be homeless but has since found a home and steady work.

Harold Hicks

Harold Hicks overcame several setbacks before he secured work in construction a few months ago. But before he found his home, he was living in a camp under an overpass in South Austin. Having escaped homelessness, he returns to the camp often to provide supplies and visit the friends he made.

The 40-year-old said he lost his old home in a fire and had no safety net to fall back on. He compared homelessness to a “sickness” and “depression” that made seeking employment near impossible.

Gilbert Jones (left) wants to work and find a home for him and his wife, Crystal Brimm, who is pregnant.

Gilbert Jones

Gilbert Jones said he has been homeless since his mother died in 1990. After entering and leaving prison with nothing, living on the street was the only option, the 51-year-old said. He lives in a tent under an overpass with his wife, who is pregnant.

Jones said passersby often harass homeless residents. He said he and his wife want to to work to secure permanent housing for their growing family. Jones also said officials unhappy with conditions of homeless camps could pay people living in them to clean them up.