The season for overnight freezing temperatures has begun, and that means more people experiencing homelessness will be suffering through the cold. While temperatures in the 30s and below can be intolerable and barely survivable for people sleeping on the streets, it can also be harmful to families sleeping in cars or even motel rooms or housing without heat.
So first thing you can do is be prepared to hand out a little more from your car. More cash, gift cards, food and bottles of water help, but also consider handing out those extra gloves, hats, socks, coats and even blankets you might have. Think about putting together a “kit” in a bag that you can hand out the window. It’s not a solution, but it can offer a little comfort to a person who has to sleep on the street that night.
Second, consider supporting the organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness with a donation. A few are listed here, but many more organizations make serving people experiencing homelessness part of their mission, too. Each one of these organizations has volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
Third, considering getting involved in efforts right now to serve and address homelessness. See a list of these opportunities below and sign up to help.
There are dozens of spots open for volunteers to help with this annual cold-weather clothing distribution, which in past years has served almost 500 people with long underwear, socks, gloves, safety whistles and more. Volunteers help prep, greet, hand out, cook for, serve and clean up from this event.
Austin was one of three cities selected nationally to participate in a 100 Day Challenge by A Way Home America, which ends December 31. The goal is for all community stakeholders to house 50 homeless youth in 100 days. What we learn along the way will inform practices nationally to end youth and young adult homelessness by 2020.
This community initiative is desperately needed. There are an alarming number of youth and young adults who are sleeping on Austin’s streets every night, but there are many more – including youth who are aging out of foster care – who are extremely vulnerable. The hope is that in bringing together all the right people – including youth themselves – this coalition can solve some key problems and lay the groundwork for our community’s plan to end youth homelessness by 2020.
While numerous partners are prioritizing vouchers for youth, LifeWorks is still short. LifeWorks is seeking landlords that have affordable housing available for these young people as well as monetary donations and donations of furniture and home goods. Find out more about how you can get involved by checking in on LifeWorks’s Facebook page.
The Point In Time Count (PIT Count) is an annual census of the homeless population that takes place across the country. Locally, the PIT Count is administered by the Austin Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO). Last year, the PIT Count collected data on 2,138 persons experiencing homelessness, a 17% increase from the previous year.
Because homelessness can be a temporary situation for many people, a count of homeless people can only assess that population at that point in time. And one of the only ways to count them is to actually go out into areas where people are finding shelter outdoors, ask them some questions and take down the data. The PIT helps communities determine the need and provides documentation for federal funding opportunities. Thus, accuracy is very important.
As a general volunteer for Austin/Travis County, you will be part of a team of no fewer than three people and be supported by a section team lead. Together, you’ll reach out to people experiencing homelessness in a respectful, safe, and meaningful way. Shifts take place during the night, and across the county, so if you have a preference as to the area you count in, they ask that you register early. At least 600 volunteers are needed this year, so sign up and bring friends. Learn more about who experiences homelessness in Austin here.
Feed My People
Groups and individuals are welcome to volunteer with the Feed My People program, which is open to anyone experiencing homelessness and poverty. This long-standing program of Foundation for the Homeless is a partnership of 15 religious congregations in the Austin Community and provides a filling, hot breakfast along with other limited services which can include, basic medical screening, eye glasses, and assistance with obtaining identification documentation for individuals and families. The program is provided at First United Methodist Church Family Life Center at Lavaca and 13th Street every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30-8:00 am
Caritas is looking for receptionists and food pantry assistants to help support services at its new North Austin location, near Rundberg and 183. Volunteer training is required as is a commitment to cover shifts, but this rewarding work puts you in contact with people and families struggling through difficult times in North Austin.