Independence Day

A message from Caritas of Austin President and CEO, Jo Kathryn Quinn

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This excerpt of The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America is familiar to most Americans. Our values of equality and equity are here rooted.

On this Independence Day I invite you to reconsider these words in light of the recent community conversation we’ve been having regarding our fellow Austinites who experience homelessness. The conversation has been heart-breaking and dehumanizing. I’ve stayed out of it until now.

I’ve worked to end homelessness since 1981. It has been both the greatest privilege and frustration of my life. In these 38 years the number of people experiencing homelessness has steadily grown. There have been a few years here and there when the number has flattened; but mostly since we started formally counting, it has gone up. When I was 20 years old and saw, for the first time, a person sleeping on the streets of NYC my immediate thought was, “in America?” All these years this continues to be incongruous for me. The nation built on the words above allows its citizens to languish on the streets.

Perhaps you take exception to this and believe our nation doesn’t allow this; each person chooses for themselves. This pervasive misunderstanding about homelessness is the primary barrier we have to solving this unnecessary form of human suffering. In my experience of service I have learned, like any group of us, the homeless are not a monolith. Every person’s story is different. While a tiny percentage of people living on the street will tell you they want to be there; the vast majority wouldn’t and didn’t choose it; nor can they get off the streets without our community’s support. If they could, they would.

We have the expertise in our community to effectively end homelessness. Caritas of Austin permanently ends homelessness for hundreds of families every year. That’s well and good, but there are thousands on the community waiting list. More or less ordinances will not shorten this list. Community members providing the right level of support for permanent solutions will. We don’t need any new widgets, just more capacity for proven practices that are already ending homelessness for hundreds.

At Caritas we believe our community is strongest when all people have a stable place to call home and the opportunity to realize their full potential. All human beings need support, and by building well-being and maximizing the talents and contributions of all individuals, we create a thriving community and more vibrant Austin for all. On this Independence Day, let’s consider together, is our community a place where a person experiencing homelessness has certain unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Jo Kathryn Quinn
President and CEO
Caritas of Austin