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 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, 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 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 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 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.