Occupy Austin and the Homeless
Dozens of Occupy Austin protesters were arrested last weekend for criminal trespassing after they argued with police over a food distribution table. The arrests have raised questions over who is protesting at any given time.
Advocates say the Occupy movement has brought attention to homelessness, not all of it good, across the nation and here in Central Texas.
The continuous Occupy Austin presence at City Hall has changed the way the city and police deal with people in the area overnight. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has maintained that heightened security at City Hall was enacted at the request of Occupy members themselves.
“What occurred is we had some of the transient population move here and actually move here: suitcases, shopping carts, bags,” Acevedo told KUT News. “Let me make something clear here: I’m concerned about safety.”
But homeless people joining the Occupy movement has made national headlines. And the reaction has been decidedly mixed.
Some protestors argue that homeless are capitalizing on free food, clothes and shelter, not supporting the cause.
But Occupy Austin info-scribe Michelle Millette says the homeless people she’s interacted with have a pretty good understanding of the movement.
“It’s more of a specific group who are familiar with what’s going on over here and have actively come out and been like, ‘Well this is a good place for me to not only sleep, but to also be a part of this,’”Millette told KUT News.
That’s not to say there haven’t been problems. One man was arrested when he allegedly threatened someone who was handing out food.
But Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says it would be misguided to ignore the effect that the Occupy movement is having on the homeless.
“There’s a lot of homeless people who are worried about how the presence of the occupiers are going to create problems for them, too, by bringing more public attention and more police attention,” Berg told KUT News. “So this happens in both directions. I guess it’s sort of inevitable.”
Here in Central Texas, advocates say that the homeless aren’t as identifiable as some claim – and that it may be easier to cast blame than to try to address a competing social issue.
City officials and Occupy Austin organizers have agreed to continue talks in the coming weeks to sort out issues related to the recent arrests.