Austin’s Homeless Encampments

Photo credit: Jay Janner, Austin American-Statesman

By Ed Dalton

Austin, Texas is the fastest-growing city in the US, making it the 11th largest in the country and rising. It is also the least livable city for low-wage workers, with an average rent of over $1,100 and a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. These conditions factor into the growing homeless population.

Driving in Austin means witnessing median strips adorned with tents and mattresses. Mini-tent cities have popped up everywhere. The New Depression has obliterated jobs, especially in the entertainment and service industry sectors, and even though the city and federal government claim to have halted non-payment evictions through the rest of the year, landlords have continued to find ways to circumvent this and have evicted tenants under false pretenses.

Many low-income workers in Austin are close to homelessness—some have already been forced under overpasses and into the new shantytowns.

This has thrust Austin’s middle class into a panic—their solutions are either charity programs or violent confrontations against the encampments. Anarchists and other liberals have long been focused on their superficial ‘mutual-aid’ programs which essentially fail to attack the root causes of homelessness and instead follow a program of charity. They rush to clean up after capitalism, acting only to postpone or neglect combating it.

The other side of the middle-class aisle is reaction. The small business owners and their lot have increased pressure on the city to ban the encampments, as if making the problem invisible will make the city any safer for its people. The most reactionary among them are the foot soldiers of real estate interests, who attack the encampments through both legal and illegal means.

This week, two women bought gasoline at a Northwest Austin gas station and proceeded to the encampment at US Highway 183 and Spicewood Springs Road, where they set it ablaze, destroying what little the people had in terms of dwellings to store their meager possessions and escape the elements. Actions like this will only increase unless the encampments are organized for defense, both from the state as well as reactionary civilians.

Many of the encampments are populated by people with severe mental illness, those who cannot function in capitalist society, drug addicts, and criminals—there are also an increasing number of workers thrust out of production and working-class families who have ended up homeless. It is these working people who must be organized to defend their encampments against all predatory elements.

It is capitalism which robs people of housing and it is the lowest-paid workers who suffer most. Revolutionaries cannot respond to such injustice with charity; they must go among the people, conduct social investigation, and determine the class contradictions. With this information it is possible to organize people, infrastructure, and defense for a higher purpose than just feeling good about yourself. That purpose can only be the revolutionary struggle of the working class against capitalism, for a society without rich or poor. This society cannot be won without revolutionary violence.


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