Homelessness is among society’s most visible social ills, and Austin’s gentrification makes it increasingly so. The development and over-development of fallow properties has left fewer places for Austin’s homeless people to live undetected, and their visibility has brought new attention to their plight.
While the results of the 2019 point-in-time count are pending, in 2018, that count found that more than 2,100 people were experiencing homelessness in Austin and Travis County, with more than 1,000 of those living unsheltered, a roughly 5 percent increase from the previous year’s count. Moreover, the count only captures some of the people. Ann Howard of ECHO told KXAN last week 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.
Our city government is once again taking a hard look at homelessness, this time with an eye toward innovation in the face of the cold, hard facts. Last week, 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.) The City will also open a new shelter with supportive services, with the first planned to open later this summer.
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. As Ann Starr of Mission Capital once told me, there are some nonprofits that act as nets, catching people as they fall, and others that act as ladder, helping people lift themselves up. So 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.
The Taco Project want to feed those in need one Breakfast Taco at a time. Once a month volunteers make 200+ breakfast tacos to hand out along side of Under the Bridge Ministries. The group meets in the parking lot under I-35 between 7th & 8th street downtown Austin. 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.
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.