Nonprofit calls for city to address disproportionate homeless rates in Black community

In the late 1800s, the Black community made up one-third of the population in Austin; today it makes up less than 10%, but accounts for more than 30% of all homeless people in the city limits.

Despite the statistics, Antony Jackson, founder of "We Can Now," says the numbers don’t add up, so he’s doing his part to change things.

Jackson’s organization was founded in 2018, to help unhoused people like him. 

"This is the car that actually saved my life and I lived in. It’s a 95 sedan DeVille, so it’s a pretty big spacious car," Jackson says. It’s the first time he’s opened his car since living in it. "I’m so very blessed to have this model in car because it was spacious enough for me to fit all my clothes and hop in the backseat and kind of sleep in there and I could adjust the seats."

Four years after that, he’s helping Austinites get off the streets.

"I had enough of having conversations about what goes on in our community and not really having any solutions after those conversations," Jackson says.

Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, ECHO, recognizes the frustrations Jackson describes. Their most recent annual report says Black Austinites were over 6 times as likely as white Austinites to experience homelessness.

"I think it makes a difference having an organization that has led by color because it’s more relatable to the clients that you serve," Jackson says. "It just gives it a more family-oriented connection when you see people that look like you, that are serving you, especially when you know that they’ve been through what you’ve been through as well"

Jackson spent a lifetime in homelessness. As a kid, he grew up in the Rosewood neighborhood in the now-gentrified East Austin

"I grew up in Austin, my mother had me at 16 and she left the house," Jackson says. He’s not alone: ECHO’s report says nearly 2 in 5 people who also grew up in Austin are homeless.

"You see the same pillows right there actually in this picture. I was leaning that way with my head on that blue pillow there. I had blankets. Of course I would put all my clothes in the front seat so I have more space back here," Jackson says, looking through the car he once called home.

Jackson continues his work, asking to see unhoused people as the humans they are.

"When you see a person [who’s] come across a difficult time and that just happened to be the outcome," Jackson says. 

As Jackson continues his work, homelessness in Austin is still an issue. 

The Salvation Army shelter in downtown Austin was set to close Wednesday March 15th, but the city of Austin has agreed to give it emergency funding, to keep it open another month. 

Jackson says he’s hoping the city continues efforts to address housing insecurity in our city and address the disproportionate numbers of homeless in the Black community.