Go into Austin on any given day and stop at a traffic light and you probably see a familiar sight. In the mid-afternoon heat stands one of the dozens of the city’s homeless people. Drive back to Georgetown and with leaving Austin behind so does the issue of what you previously saw. Or so you thought.
With the increasing urbanization of Georgetown in recent years, the issue of homelessness has grown, yet the problem remains distantly addressed. According to the city of Georgetown’s Code of Ordinances, panhandling, which is defined as “verbally or nonverbally requesting money, food, or other valuable consideration from another person without giving consideration of equal value in return,” is outlawed. Additionally, unless with written approval or part of a special event, “No person in the City shall be asleep in the nighttime in any street, alley, highway, square, sidewalk or other public place, not belonging to him.” These ordinances might make the issue of homeless invisible to many in the Georgetown community, but they certainly do not make the problem go away.
City council representative for District 1 in Georgetown, Patty Eason, said “Diversity of population is key to a sustainable community and sustainable economy. Homelessness and substandard housing are very huge issues in Georgetown. The problem is that number one it exists and number two people try to push those people on to other communities.”
Eason said problems have also occurred from people not being able to work in Georgetown who live in Georgetown. “That was a problem for economic development [because] when you got mostly people just spending the night here as opposed to working here you have the tax burden following more on people who are homeowners than on your businesses and other areas of the community.”
Specifically, youth homelessness is a reality even in seemingly affluent Georgetown. There are reportedly 149 homeless youth in the Georgetown Independent School District as of September 2009, approximately one percent of the students enrolled in the school district.
Youth homeless is specifically defined in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1986 as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” Instead of a place to go home, youth couch surf or sleep in cars and families are often “doubled up” or sometimes “tripled up.”
In response to this issue, the Georgetown Project hopes for the success of Eagles’ Nest, a proposed shelter for homeless youth.
Additionally, according to the official Census Bureau, Georgetown has a population of 28,339 as of April 1, 2000 and is estimated to be at 49,932 as of November 2009. The Caring Place, a local non-profit organization that serves underprivileged families in the Georgetown area, has felt this increase. From January to September 2009, 709 news families came to The Caring Place seeking assistance and September 2009 alone saw the highest amount of first time families ever in its nearly 25 year history. The organization also has spent 98.4% of its client services budget as of September.
Suzy Pukys, director of civic engagement, noted the importance of this issue. “When it comes to affordable housing, homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, issues that really need to be acknowledged by some serious infrastructural work – like public transportation, for example because that would be an empowering thing that this community could do for people who are making low wages and are struggling to get by every month and get their basic needs met.”
The issue of homelessness is one that affects the entire community. “The people who are saying this is a problem are in the minority and the people who choose to think of that as sort of a ‘us’ and ‘them’ thing it’s like not acknowledging we are all one community,” Pukys said. “I believe the health of the community depends on the health of all of its members, not just some of its members. We have a level of responsibility for that wellness.”