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Fires Under I-35 Left Homeless Austinites With Nothing. Volunteers Stepped Up To Lend A Hand.

Rania Lewis helps distribute donations for individuals experiencing homelessness under I-35.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Rania Lewis helps distribute donations for individuals experiencing homelessness under I-35.

Peaceful protests outside Austin police headquarters two weekends ago were marred by destruction as people set fire to a car and the belongings of Austinites living under I-35.

One video of the violence caught the attention of Rania Lewis, a St. Edward's University student who helped start an online fundraiser to replace some of what those folks lost. 

"We wanted to let them know we're here for them as a community and also ... that they are seen and they are part of Austin," she said.

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Credit Michael Minasi / KUT
/
KUT
Greg Howard says food donations have been relatively steady since the COVID-19 pandemic, but clothing donations are spotty.

Greg Howard, 57, lost nearly everything.

"During the riots, all my stuff got burnt up. My mattress, my tent – all that stuff got burnt up," he said. "So, [I'm] starting all over – again."

Howard said he's been living under I-35 for four months. When the protests outside APD headquarters got heated May 30, he decided to leave.

When he came back, his stuff was gone. 

Tuesday afternoon, he waited in line for a care package filled with nonperishable food like ramen, along with toiletries and medical supplies. He also got some clean shirts and underwear – items that are crucial as regular donations have slowed during the pandemic.

Last week, Lewis canvassed people under I-35, asking if they had anything specific they needed – or wanted – in a care package. She and others filled 40 of those packages before shuttling them over to I-35 in the scorching heat.

"Oh, this is a blessing right here, man," Howard said as opened his package. "This is a blessing."

Along with the food and supplies, he got a tent and a bus pass, which he'll use to literally ride out the heat during the day.

Both the demonstrators and police say the violence under I-35 was caused by people looking for trouble, not those protesting the killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. 

Howard, who became homeless after losing a job in tech, said he doesn't hold a grudge; he doesn't wish ill on the people who burned his stuff. Instead, he said it's been heartening to see the unity in Austin and elsewhere as people of all backgrounds come together to protest police violence, like on Sunday.

He said Tuesday's unprompted donations were proof of that unity.

"Life ain't so bad," he said. "Just when you think you're down, someone's going to come pick you up."

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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