More than a Meal: How Austin Ministries Are Expanding Their Approach to Homelessness

After the city voted to ban encampments in the Texas capital, more churches see advocacy, lobbying, and government partnerships as part of their outreach.

East of downtown Austin, a row of more than 20 closely linked tents and makeshift shelters are set up outside the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library, around the corner from Christ Church of Austin.

The church’s associate rector, Matt Dampier, visits the homeless encampment on Sundays to meet with people and offer communion. I walked with him to the encampment shortly after a recent election that reinstated a camping ban designed to remove growing homeless encampments throughout the Texas capital.

“They’re trying to get all those homeless people out of sight,” Amy Goldman, 44, told us. “What they need to do is lower the cost of living and allow a living wage.”

Goldman, wearing a clean Philippians 4:13 T-shirt, has been homeless for nine years. She moves between this camp, where she shares shelter with another person, and one further south where she keeps her own tent tucked away.

Goldman’s response accurately reflects that someone with a minimum-wage job ($7.25 an hour) would have to work 120 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Austin, according to Ending Community Homeless Coalition (ECHO) 2020 data.

Limping along the wet sidewalk after a heavy downpour, Stephen Holmes, 54, stops to speak with us, his bare feet splattered with post-rain debris and his disabled left leg jutting outward.

“I’m not living the American dream,” Holmes said. He’s originally from Austin and attended Anderson High School on the northwest side of town. “I’m an Anderson Trojan,” he said proudly, as my heart sunk even further when I heard him name my neighborhood school.

Holmes had been on disability and taking care of his father for ten years before …

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