The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

The Phoenix Project

New nonprofit brings mutual aid, community to those experiencing homelessness in Waco

3 weeks ago

By Skylla Mumana

When Adeline Le first took a break from college, her goal was to relax. The Hewitt resident had always been a busy student on the go, so she decided to put a pause on obtaining her degree and take some much-needed time for herself. But then, Le ran into an issue — she was bored. So, she decided to utilize her free time to pursue a lingering passion that she’s always had: helping others. Thus, the Phoenix Project was born.

The Phoenix Project is a mutual aid organization that works to assist the homeless population of Waco in obtaining necessary resources for survival and empowerment to regain stability and make connections within the community. When looking for ways to describe her new endeavor, Le felt that the word ‘charity’ wasn’t the right fit.

“I call it a mutual aid organization,” Le said. “I guess there is charity involved, but I tend to think of it less as charity and more as community members helping other community members. I think of unhoused people as part of the community because we’re living in community with them. It’s kind of our responsibility to help where we can.”

The Phoenix Project was established in January of this year. The organization, spearheaded by Le, currently has three other members: Brooke Foit, Peter Almanza and Kristin Valerio, all of whom assist with things such as day-to-day operations, donations and social media management. Each Saturday, the group distributes food, clothing, beverages, blankets, first aid, sanitary products, hygiene products and more to the homeless population of Waco.

“We go out every Saturday,” Le said. “It usually starts at noon and then we hit up three locations, and I say three because if we pass by and no one’s there then we go to the next one. We go to the skate park downtown — it’s called Sul Ross Skate Park — then we go to the Greyhound bus station because a lot of unhoused people hang out there. We also go to the Suspension Bridge.”

When Le first started going out for distributions, she was shocked by how severe the homeless situation was in Waco. After conversing with people experiencing homelessness people she’d meet during her shifts, she was able to learn more about the realities of being homeless.

“Because I’ve lived a very privileged life, I didn’t expect the problem to be as pervasive as it was,” Le said. “I didn’t expect the realities of being unhoused to be what they are. After my first time setting foot to do distribution, I’ve been able to have conversations with unhoused people about their experiences, like how long they’ve been out on the streets, or where they’re from originally. A lot of them are not from anywhere near here — they were just stranded here. They can’t go back home, they don’t have a phone, they can’t contact their families. Getting to know them and talking to them every week has taught me a lot about exactly how pervasive this problem is and how difficult it is for them to have to deal with it, essentially, alone.”

We don’t know because we don’t ask, and we don’t ask because we don’t want to hear what they have to say. We don’t provide spaces for them to tell us what they need and how. We don’t provide resources for them to feel like an integrated part of our community.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness in America has steadily risen since 2017. In 2022 in Texas, there were 24,432 unhoused people on a given night, and in a recent news story by KXXV, a 2023 report showed that there are roughly 220 people are without homes in Waco, a steep rise that Le has personally noticed since the group’s inception.

“When I was a kid, I grew up around here. Whenever I would go around, I would see unhoused people in certain areas, basically in the same areas that I see them in now since working in this organization. They’re in the same places, but now the number of people has grown,” Le said. “On top of that, I realized that there are places I didn’t even look. So, I asked people, ‘Where do you guys go if you can’t be over here?’ They’d tell me about different locations and so that’s how I found out to go to those places. And I never would have known if I didn’t ask. I’m just learning a lot.”

One thing that Le has seen while working is the stigma surrounding homelessness. Although homelessness is highly visible, people often ignore them, stare or verbally reinforce that they are outsiders to communities. Le feels that battling this stigma is one of the hardest parts of her job and hopes that her organization can help fight against this.

“I had someone tell me not to give unhoused people plastic utensils because they might turn them into weapons. It’s a plastic spoon!” Le said. “I also had this one unhoused person tell me that being unhoused in Waco was the first time that they felt that everything was working against them. That was the hardest thing for me to hear. I had no idea that they felt that way about living in Waco because we’ve had vastly different experiences. We don’t know because we don’t ask, and we don’t ask because we don’t want to hear what they have to say. We don’t provide spaces for them to tell us what they need and how. We don’t provide resources for them to feel like an integrated part of our community. It’s so hard.”

 

But why start this group? Why have a mutual aid organization when we have others already established in Waco? For Le, you can never have too much support, only too little.

 

“There are certainly organizations that do provide support. The Salvation Army has been here forever, and [My] Brother’s Keeper has been here a while, but the problem is still here. Which also means that we’re not providing enough,” Le said.“There aren’t enough resources, and we aren’t doing enough essentially. The reason why it’s important to have this kind of thing is because the problem still exists and until the problem is gone, there should be organizations that provide support.”

 

In the future, Le plans to grow the Phoenix Project and continue providing aid to the unhoused members of the Waco community. Currently, Le and her team are planning to have volunteer opportunities in the future so that the Waco public can help out. For now, however, the group accepts monetary donations, and they have four drop off locations: Cooper & Co. Salon, Cultivate 7Twelve, YOUtopia Essentials and Fuzzlab Waco where people can donate. All-in-all, she hopes that the Waco community will band together to support her cause and help out their fellow Wacoan.

“I think that no one really likes the idea of people not having what they need,” Le said. “I think that’s why GoFundMe exists, and that’s why we take our clothes to Goodwill. I think that’s why we volunteer in soup kitchens. Having a lot of different ways to give what you don’t need to someone else who might need it is a good thing. I think as Wacoans we should be trying to support other Wacoans. That includes people who don’t have homes.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Phoenix Project, visit their Instagram at @thephoenixproject.wtx.