Don’t call it a march. Call it a serenade.
About a dozen homeless people and their advocates strolled along South Congress Avenue on Saturday with signs reading “House the Homeless” and “Universal Living Wage.”
The group paused in front of Torchy’s Tacos, singing, “We are the homeless, the mighty, mighty homeless.” Saturday brunchers sitting outside looked up curiously. One called out, “Good luck.”
“This is our first conversation,” said Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless.
The group’s mission was to draw attention to homelessness in Austin and to advocate for a higher minimum wage and lower-rent apartment options, as part of a National Coalition for the Homeless day of action on housing.
Specifically, Austin’s House the Homeless would like to see the city build a “workers hotel” where people could live cheaply with shared bathrooms and other facilities. Troxell said about half of the nation’s homeless people spend at least part of each week working.
The “mighty homeless” continued down the street. One was Lawrence Gill, 49, who came to Austin from Dallas a year ago for “a fresh start.” He has slept in his car since then, sometimes in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment complex, sometimes at a Wal-Mart.
“I’m tired of being homeless,” he said. “Apartment prices are the only hiccup I have.”
The group stopped again at June’s bistro, singing and chanting, “Give me a job and a living wage.” Some diners smiled. Some took pictures. Some looked down at their menus and cellphones. A group visiting from Washington, D.C., said they hoped the singers get their hotel.
“I’m fired up,” said Jennifer Gesche, who joined the group in her mechanical wheelchair.
Gesche, who writes for The Challenger Street Newspaper, isn’t homeless but said it seemed she could lose the roof over her head “at any minute.”
“I’m just getting to know my neighbors,” she said.
Horns honked and tourists gawked, unsure of what was going on, as the group strolled down the busy sidewalk, stopping every few yards to begin the chants anew.
Austin resident John Schultz, 29, shook hands with the group as they stopped for lunch at Home Slice, wishing them luck. Angst over low wages and high rents is a known issue, he said, but keeping that in the view of people as much as possible can only help.
“As long as there is dialogue about it, however you go about it, state by state, city by city, house by house, things will change,” he said.