Oct 18, 2013

Sculptor Still Seeking Approval, Funding for Homeless Statue

Richard Troxell with the maquette for his proposed memorial to Austin's homeless, 'The Homecoming,' at his home in Austin. Photo by Gabriel Perez.

Richard Troxell with the model for his proposed memorial to Austin’s homeless, “The Homecoming.”  Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez.

By Dylan Baddour
For Reporting Texas

In late August, the Austin City Council abruptly tabled a vote on a proposed bronze monument to homelessness on Auditorium Shores, with no explanation and no schedule for discussing it again.

But Richard Troxell, an advocate for the homeless who designed and plans to sculpt the statue, isn’t giving up. Last month, he was on Auditorium Shores near the First Street Bridge, filming a promotional video for the statue. Troxell said he’s hoping to raise money for the $98,000 statue on Indiegogo, a crowd-funding website.

He said the statue would be a “beacon of hope” for Austin’s homeless community.

Emails to the City Council show that some Austinites have a very different view of the proposed 8-by-11 foot statue of a homeless veteran, a child and an old woman near a trash-can fire.

“I don’t mean to be heartless, but we see homeless people on practically every corner of every street in Austin every day — do we really need a statue to remind us they are here?” said Joanne Clem Garrett in an email to Council President Mike Martinez, one of three members who had said they supported the statue idea.

“If that statue goes up, I will make a point of peeing on it in protest, every time I see it,” said an email from Jennifer Ayers.

Martinez did not respond to several phone calls and emails about why he had tabled the statue item, which would have directed the city manager to find potential sites. Council Member Laura Morrison, another statue supporter, said in an email that the council had “received some input that suggested further dialogue was in order.”

Jeff Ward, who hosts an afternoon talk show on KLBJ-AM, said he was swamped with listener calls when he raised the statue issue before the City Council meeting, with many baffled by the design.

“People were just confused on how it related to Austin,” Ward said. “I mean, everyone has seen someone homeless. No one here has ever seen a soldier and a baby huddled around a fire.”

“If it’s good art, it causes conversation,” responded Troxell, who has been studying sculpture for the past year. “People are going to ask, ‘Well, why is this 9-year-old girl in this statue? How does that make sense?’ We want people to ask those questions, and perhaps it will evoke compassion.”

Troxell, a once-homeless Vietnam War veteran, said the figures in the statue represent the demographics of homelessness. He also is the founder and president of House the Homeless, the nonprofit that is sponsoring the statue project.

He said he thinks the reason the council vote was tabled was concern that controversy over the statue could hurt chances for a $65 million bond issue to provide affordable housing for low-income residents on the Nov. 5 ballot. Voters defeated a similar bond issue last November. It was the only one of seven bond proposals to fail.

Austin attorney Ed McHorse raised the same concern in an email to some council members. In an email reply, Michael McGill, a policy director for Council Member Sheryl Cole, indicated that Martinez planned to reopen discussion after the bond election.

If the council approves his idea, Troxell has said he would raise private donations to pay for the statue.

At the video shoot, a cameraman filmed scenes including children planting flowers at the existing homeless memorial — a small plaque beneath a tree at Auditorium Shores — and a group shot in which Troxell and a dozen supporters said in unison, “Let’s put a face on homelessness.”

John Kelso, Austin-American Statesman humor columnist, says the statue ought to include Leslie Cochran, a homeless cross-dresser who was a regular figure at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue, often wearing high heels, thongs and tiaras. Cochran, who died last year, ran for mayor three times.

“Austin has a very unique history of homeless people and even celebrities,” Kelso said. “It shows that Austin has a big heart and doesn’t judge people based on socioeconomic status.”

Aside from Cochran, local homeless celebrities include Max Nofziger, a former homeless flower salesman who served on the City Council from 1987 to 1996; “Crazy” Carl Hickerson, who ran several times for City Council; and Jennifer Gale, a homeless transvestite who made 11 runs for public office.

“A lot of Austinites are whining that the city is becoming too much like Dallas,” Kelso said. “Put that statue there, and we’ll end that speculation.”