Should Austin spend $175K on statue honoring homeless … or on the homeless?
posted at 1:51 pm on August 29, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
This is a tougher question that it seems on the surface. KEYE TV reports that the Austin city council is considering whether to replace a barely-visible tribute to the homeless who have died on the street with a more prominent statue for the same purpose, at a cost of $175,000. One advocate for the homeless and the statue calls the cash “chump change” while defending the project:
This week the Austin City Council considers placing a full-size statue to the homeless along Lady Bird Lake. But could the money be better spent on homeless programs? For people jogging along Lady Bird Lake, the current tiny memorial to the homeless is almost invisible. That’s why long-time homeless advocate Richard Troxell is proposing a much larger tribute to the people who have died living on the streets. Troxell says, “This gives people that sense of being visible. That somebody knows that they’re out here. That they’re stuck out here and they’re crying out for help.” Troxell, who founded House the Homeless, estimates 150 people died in Austin last year homeless. Opponents bristle at the $175,000 price tag, but Troxell bristles back. “This is chump change. This is nothing. We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar situation here.”
Sure, $175,000 won’t solve homelessness in Austin, but surely helping with food, housing, perhaps medication if mental illness is involved, would make more sense than spending it on art?
That’s certainly a defensible response, but I’d at least like to give the devil’s-advocate argument in response. The $175,000 certainly could help relieve the effects of homelessness for a few people for a very short time. Art, however, has a lasting impact and message, one that might well provoke enough attention and concern to prompt more public but hopefully private efforts to reduce homelessness and poverty for a much longer time. That is why art and culture matters, why it is (as Andrew Breitbart often reminded us) upstream of politics, and why engagement with it is crucial for public policy and development.
If Austin has the cash to do this without soaking taxpayers or shorting services (which is a big if), it’s not an irrational option. It might be better, though, to seek private funding for the statue so that Austin can service both the immediate and long-term needs of the homeless.