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Austinites fundraise to help homeless community avoid protests, possible unrest at Texas Capitol

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the Texas Department of Public Safety announced Friday it “is aware of armed protests planned at the Texas State Capitol this week and violent extremists who may seek to exploit constitutionally protected events to conduct criminal acts,” Rhie Azzam Morris immediately began to worry about how those threats could impact people experiencing homelessness in downtown Austin.

Azzam Morris previously experienced homelessness in Austin and now works in Austin’s homeless response system.

“I just started thinking how vulnerable that population is — I mean I know it, I lived it — and thinking, who is doing anything about this?” she told KXAN.

She added that part of her concern stemmed from the fact that participants in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 included self-described white supremacists and those who wore symbols associated with white nationalism.

She pointed to ECHO’s data from the Point in Time Count last year which indicate that Black Austinites continue to make up a disproportionately large number of the area’s homeless population. ECHOs data shows that African Americans represent more than 1 in 3 people counted this year but represent less than 1 in 10 individuals in the total population of Austin-Travis County.

Azzam Morris and a friend got together and began fundraising for bus passes to bring to people experiencing homelessness in downtown Austin near the Texas Capitol. They created a group over the weekend called Safety for All ATX.

So far, between GoFundMe and Venmo, the group has raised around $6,000 and the group plans to share proof of how all of those funds are used on its Facebook page. The idea is to alert people living there to the possibility of demonstrations in the coming days and giving them an option to go somewhere else if they choose to.

“The level of response for how small its been has been amazing,” Azzam Morris said.

“I love Austin, I’ve been here a long time, but oftentimes I feel like there is a lack of compassion and humanity for people experiencing homelessness,” she said.

By Sunday, they had mapped out downtown Austin and handed out bus passes to individuals experiencing homelessness. Along with the bus passes, the volunteers passed out a piece of paper with information on how to contact Safety For All ATX and where to find other free resources in the area. The volunteers are also offering $75 Visa gift cards for people experiencing homelessness so they can stay in a motel for a few days if that helps them move to a different location in the short term.

A volunteer coordinator for this project, who asked to remain anonymous, said they had distributed 81 bus passes to people downtown over the past two days. The coordinator said a majority of people experiencing homelessness they spoke with were aware that people had been demonstrating at the Texas Capitol on Sunday and that more demonstrations may happen ahead of the inauguration.

Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) tells KXAN it also approved the distribution of 70 31-day bus passes to its outreach partners to give out in downtown Austin, starting Saturday. ECHO provided these bus passes for outreach partners to distribute in anticipation of possible violence downtown.

KXAN will be providing an update with more details on this effort on KXAN News.

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