In an effort to honor the homeless in Austin, community members have proposed the construction of a memorial statue that will commemorate those who have died and those who will die as a result of living in homelessness. The statue, called “The Homecoming,” will require a budget of $100,000 — a number that has left many in the community questioning the price of honor.
By Sylvia Kim
Photos courtesy of House the Homeless
This year, more than 2,300 people in Austin live in homelessness. An estimated 360 to 450 people in Austin are both chronically homeless, meaning one who has been homeless for more than one year or has experienced it four or more times in a three-year period, and are at severe risk of mortality. For those in support of the memorial, the statue will give these members of the homeless community a voice.
Richard Troxell, founder and president of the House the Homeless organization, proposed the memorial as a donation-based project and believes the memorial will act as a step toward eradicating homelessness in Austin. His organization, primarily led by people who are either homeless or have been homeless, first built a memorial for the homeless 20 years ago on Auditorium Shores, and “The Homecoming” would stand alongside this memorial. With a larger display, Troxell believes more people who pass by Auditorium Shores and Lady Bird Lake will be able to see the memorial and properly reflect. “The memorial will consist of three statues made of bronze — a father, daughter, and elderly black woman who meet in a chance encounter,” Troxell says.
Each character in the statue represents a different member of the homeless community. “The father is a Vietnam veteran. Nearly one third of the homeless population is made up of veterans,” Troxell explains. The little girl in the memorial design is designed to look nine years old, which Troxell says denotes the average age of a homeless person. “Then, there is the elderly woman who is from nowhere, going nowhere,” he adds.
Many people praise Troxell’s efforts and plans for “The Homecoming,” including Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Austin City Councilman Mike Martinez, but some have also disagreed with the use of the funds. Callen Horton, a sophomore sociology major at UT and a volunteer for Street Youth Ministry (an organization devoted to serving street-dependent youth on Guadalupe Street), expressed his opposition to the statue: “I have to question whether or not the money could be used for something focused on ending homelessness, like low-income housing, or assisting with criminal records,” Horton says.
Many subpopulations of people living in homelessness have previous incarcerations, substance abuse, and/or mental illness. However, Troxell believes the money needs to be used to create awareness and make a larger impact. “For people with substance abuse, Texas Star Recovery costs about $25,000 for just thirty days. The cost of the statue would only be about four people in recovery. This statue is a beacon of hope. It is loud and clear and brings in people with money help these people without it,” Troxell says.
Those who will be most directly affected by the potential creation of “The Homecoming” statue also contributed converging and diverging opinions. Living on Guadalupe Street across from the University, Emily experiences homelessness everyday. “I personally think it’s a good idea. Austin has memorials and whenever somebody dies the memorial makes a big deal out of it,” she says
A totality of support for “The Homecoming” is uncertain at the present time. The $100,000 required for the project has not yet been completely collected, and many issues surround the topic of homelessness in Austin, such as the controversy of panhandling, which is now no longer illegal in the city of Austin. Although there are controversial disagreements surrounding the topic of homelessness, what most Austinites seem to agree on is awareness and support for the homeless will benefit everyone. “Most people cannot identify with homelessness. To them, it is just a word,” Troxell says.”
Would you like to get involved?
House the Homeless is still collecting donations for the statue through their website. The existing memorial is also set to have its 20th Anniversary ceremony open to the public to honor the people who have died due to homelessness in Austin this past year some time in November.
UT also has a number of clubs that benefit the homeless in Austin, as well, such as the Longhorn Unit of Volunteers and Hunger and Homelessness Outreach. If you’d like to volunteer time, money, or your efforts to ending homelessness in Austin take a look at the charities in your neighborhood.