I’ve just completed my first byline for the Austin Chronicle, the local free paper. Using a recent Twitter flamewar as a frame, I looked at what life is like for unhoused people living Austin through their own voices as well as those of volunteers providing mutual aid:
On January 2 of this year, Chris Saldaña sent a tweet, tagging Austin’s mayor and police chief: “Happy New Year @Chief_Chacon, any update on @austintexasgov cleaning up this piece of property that belongs to the City of #Austin. It’s going on two months that you said it would be handled. This video is from today. Cars, trash, drugs, prostitution. Help us @MayorAdler.”
The linked video pans through an encampment used by unhoused people in a North Austin park near I-35 in the St. Johns neighborhood. A pile of trash bags and garbage gathered into a pile can be seen, and some tents, but not much else. (No people are visible.)
Saldaña, a journalist and communications professional, spent 2021 as an announcer for Austin FC, during the inaugural year of Austin’s Major League Soccer team. Things turned sour for him quickly after the tweet, which was met with a flood of disagreement (and, according to Saldaña, some threatening messages too). Many of the replies were from fans, who thought that his tweet was starkly at odds with the inclusive atmosphere they’ve tried to create at Austin FC games, where attendees may chant, “Y’all means all.”
“I was disgusted by the tweet,” said Justin Davis, a formerly unhoused season ticket holder who now drives an electric cab. Davis was one of multiple regular attendees who reached out to the team asking for a formal response. Although the team never publicly responded, some fans report receiving a short reply saying the issue would be handled internally.
As someone that identifies as a gonzo journalist, it was especially fun to get to use sports as a lens through which to reflect important aspects of human culture, much as Hunter Thompson so famously did in his work. Beyond that, this is an issue that means a lot to me as a human being. I really put my all into this and I hope it shows.
My piece can be found online and in the Austin Chronicle print edition, for those of you who are local.