Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless is a 100% volunteer-driven group that collects and distributes basic living supplies to people who are homeless once a month under the bridge at 8th and I-35. We call these events “giveaways.” The group, which formed in September 2009, includes volunteers of all backgrounds and many families with children. The only thing that identifies who we are is a small sign. Some volunteers wear t-shirts that say “Humanism at Work” and “Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless.”
Our reason for being there is three-fold: First and foremost, we are there to serve our community. Secondly, we want to show religious beliefs are not required in order to be compassionate toward others. Our final goal is to have fun.
We intentionally do not proselytize our non-belief at our giveaways. We don’t distribute literature, play music or try to deconvert anyone. That’s not why we’re there. Occasionally we get someone in our giveaway line who steps out as soon as they learn we are non-believers. Most of the time, it’s not an issue. Sometimes people are curious and ask genuine questions, to which we happily talk with them about our personal experiences but that’s the extent of it. We offer what we have with no strings attached.
2015 has been a little different than the year before. Out of the four giveaways we’ve held so far, we’ve experienced hostile behavior at three of them. In January, one person preached via bullhorn at our group and the people in our line. In March, another performed a prayer walk (space cleansing) after our giveaway ended and we had packed up. Earlier in April, religious literature was handed to our volunteers.
This behavior is confusing. Their intolerance would be understandable if we went there every month acting like loud mouthed jerks but it’s quite the opposite. We go down to the bridge, set up our tables, serve those in line, then close up shop in less than an hour. Sometimes we have perishable items left over that cannot be held until the next giveaway (like bananas) and we offer them to nearby faith-based groups who take them and distribute them. We’re not a threat. If those people only knew that some of our supporters and volunteers are people of faith. If they only knew our group works with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church during CWS alerts, they might see that a person’s religious conviction is not the ultimate litmus test when it comes to serving people with compassion.
If you’re curious about what we do, please check out the information on our website or, better yet, join us at our next giveaway on June 14th. We’d be happy to meet you.
Did you enjoy this article? Want to read more like it? Great news! The latest issue of the Challenger Newspaper is available for download here. Or for a hard-copy version see our distributors map to locate a friendly Challenger distributor near you. Thank you for helping support our mission to end homelessness in Austin!