Homelessness is a complicated problem, but the solution is simple: Put people in homes. A number of nonprofit organizations in Austin do that, though they can’t keep pace with the need. Your donations can help them build or acquire more residences to provide homes for individuals and families.
But volunteers can help keep individuals and families in housing, too. Wraparound, supportive services like tutoring, childcare, meals, mentoring, financial education and more give volunteers a chance to directly support a family and keep them on the path to self-sufficiency.
The 2019 point-in-time count found 2,255 people experiencing homeless, with more than half of those unsheltered. But the count only captures some of the people. Ann Howard of ECHO told KXAN that, “In a given year, we might assess 7,000 individuals or households that need help, but only have the resources for 2,000.” And by resources, Howard means the apartments, town homes, and homes, as well as “wrap-around” services that help people find better jobs and better health.
In June, Austin City Council effectively decriminalized homelessness by modifying laws against camping on city streets and panhandling. It also approved $8.6 million to create a new, 100-bed shelter in South Austin. Earlier this year, Austin City Council renewed the contract with nonprofit Front Steps to continue to operate the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless or ARCH, a move that also came with lots of changes for how ARCH operates. Front Steps will offer fewer beds but a better paid staff and better managed caseloads, which it believes will help move people through the system more quickly. (In fact, homeless people have told me that one of the obstacles in their receiving the help they need has been the constant turnover in case worker staff. Having to explain their situation to a new person every time impedes progress on a solution, they said.)
So now may be the time to jump in and be a part of the solution. For those who want to help our fellow citizens, there are a number of opportunities to volunteer and give. To help you sort out how much you can help, here’s a list of volunteer opportunities to catch and lift-up homeless people in Austin, from net to ladder.
By the way, you could always carry some water bottles to hand out, make and distribute care kits, put a few dollars in their hands, volunteer with Mobile Loaves & Fishes to hand out sandwiches and socks, and just smile and say hello instead of sneer. Or get creative! Volunteers sign up to give haircuts, host donation drives for mens’ clothes, provide music ministry, and more. Don’t let the fact that you can’t do everything keep you from doing anything.
Community First! Village is as much a permanent home for formerly chronically homeless adults as it is a volunteering wonderland. There’s sometimes up to a dozen volunteer opportunities a day – as an individual, a pair, or a team. Alan Graham has built a place where anyone can express their love for humanity and come away feeling completely fulfilled. Help in the gardens, the library, the studio, market, moves, a food truck… many hands make light work at this world-renowned neighborhood. Learn more.
Foundation for the Homeless offers The Feed My People program, which provides breakfast every Tuesday and Thursday 5-7 am downtown at First UMC Family Life Center near the State Capitol. They’re always looking for individual or teams of servers. Learn more.
St. Louise House provides support to women and children experiencing homelessness, and it’s always looking for volunteers for a variety of activities, from helping to host empowerment workshops or providing childcare for mothers so they can take some much-needed time for themselves. Learn more.
Casa Marianella women’s house is a full-service transitional housing program for immigrant mothers and their children escaping domestic or cultural violence. You can help parents navigate social services, get to appointments, or find an apartment, or you can work with the kids, helping them with homework or organizing fun activities on the weekends. Learn more.
Front Steps partners with Austin Free Net to recruit volunteers who can help someone set up an email or Facebook account, search for a job online, write a resume, find a bus route, and much more. Learn more.
Caritas is always looking for volunteers to help low-income families move toward financial stability including guidance on effective money management, finding affordable housing, or gaining new employment. Learn more.
Foundation Communities is keeping families off the streets by being the largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing. You can volunteer as an individual or a group at any of the dozen or so communities, serving as a childcare provider, sharing meals, tutoring, and more. Foundation Communities also offers a number of services that help families become more financially stable, like enlisting and training volunteers to enroll them in federal healthcare insurance or to file their taxes. Hundreds of volunteers support Foundation Communities every year.
Art from the Streets seeks to diminish the stigmatizing effect of homelessness by nurturing the human desire to create and share. There are many opportunities to help make that a reality. Whether you’re interested in working with their downtown open studio sessions from 1 – 4 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, helping out at the Annual Show & Sale in December, helping host a show or fundraiser or being a corporate sponsor, there are numerous opportunities at AFTS. Learn more.
LifeWorks supports young people and families by putting them on a path to self-sufficiency and helping them avoid homelessness. Groups are invited to participate in special volunteer projects after they take a “Faces of LifeWorks” tour, which are held about once a month. Learn more.