40-hours of homelessness

Published 7:44 am Friday, August 20, 2010

Pastor Jonathan Baxter and his wife, Audra, of In His Hands Ministries are photographed at Lions Park Thursday afternoon, where the group will be holding a homelessness awareness camp-out starting Friday night. --Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Jonathan Baxter has a home here in Austin, but he knows some people aren’t as fortunate.

That’s why Baxter, who is the pastor for the new In His Hands Ministries, will be camping out at Lions Park near the Queen of Angels church this weekend in an effort to raise awareness about homelessness.

Starting today at 6 p.m., Baxter, along with possibly a few others who worship with him at the Mower County Senior Center, will be starting a 40-hour journey into what life is like without a home.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s really just about raising awareness,” the pastor said. “I have a sensitivity to it.”

Baxter grew up in Detroit, a large city where homelessness is prevalent. Though Austin isn’t nearly as large, he said it is still a problem here.

Exactly how big a problem homelessness is in Austin is hard to say. Baxter said he’s aware of anywhere between 14 and 24 people who are completely without homes, though there may be a handful more who go unnoticed and uncounted. Additionally, many people are only homeless on a temporary basis, the National Coalition for the Homeless reports, making measurement that much more difficult.

However, the coalition reports more authoritatively that many U.S. cities do not have enough shelters to house their estimated number of homeless on a given night.

Baxter said this is a problem in Austin as well, as there is no permanent homeless shelter. Currently, the best bet for someone without a home is to contact the local Salvation Army, which can arrange a temporary hotel stay, said Baxter, a former Austin Salvation Army worker himself.

But the pastor wants to see something more permanent and visible, a place where homeless people and families can be comfortable. And such a place wouldn’t need to be big, given Austin’s size.

So, Baxter’s next goal is to raise funds for a shelter. He said he’d like to start fundraising as soon as this weekend, if passers-by are generous enough as he camps in Lions Park.

Ultimately, he’d like to see an Austin homeless shelter open in the next five to 10 years.

“This can be something you can fall back on,” Baxter said of a potential shelter.

And that idea of falling back on something, Baxter said, is very important. The pastor noted that as he’s worked with homeless people, he’s noticed that most of them do care about themselves, and have slipped in life rather than failed.

“They didn’t say, ‘Hey, I want to stop in life,’” Baxter said.

A shelter, then, can be a good, temporary place for people to get back on their feet, whether they’re dealing with a lost job, drug abuse or some other challenge.

“They want to be helped,” the pastor added.

As Baxter takes to Lions Park this evening, that will be part of his message as he tries to raise awareness about a national problem that effects Austin, too.

“I don’t even know what to expect,” the pastor said of the camp-out. “We’re just going to go out and do those 40 hours.”