Homelessness Is Down in Austin
The results are in: for the fourth year in a row, homelessness in Austin is down. According to ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), results from the January 2015 Point-In-Time count estimate the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night has decreased by 6% over last year in Austin/Travis County and is down 29% since 2009.
What does that mean?
Our solutions are working.
Caritas of Austin’s comprehensive services are helping to permanently reduce homelessness in our city. The most critical issue in ending homelessness it is to first provide people with permanent housing they can afford. Access to housing is an important turning point because once an individual is housed, he or she can start addressing other needs like employment and medical and mental health services, and take other necessary steps to permanently transform his or her life.
The numbers speak for themselves: 80% of people in our Supportive Housing programs remain stable in housing, not returning to the streets. This affirms our belief that people lack not the motivation to improve their lives, but often the opportunity to do so. That’s our goal at Caritas of Austin: helping our most vulnerable community members connect to the opportunities needed to move forward on their path toward self-sufficiency.
So, have we succeeded?
While we are making progress, we have much more work to be done. ECHO’s annual point-in-time count indicates that on any given night 1,877 people are homeless in Austin/Travis County.
We can [and must] do better.
Homelessness is not an individual problem – it affects our entire community. It is also expensive. Between shelter, emergency medical care, and other uses of public resources, it costs our city an average of $40,000 per chronically homeless individual annually. It only costs a fraction of that for Caritas of Austin to provide permanent supportive housing and support services for that person.
What’s the answer?
It sounds overly simplistic, but the answer to homelessness remains housing. Our city still does not have enough available supportive and affordable housing for all 1,877 of the individuals experiencing homelessness. As a community, we have to stay committed to expanding new supportive and affordable housing units.
We are making progress. Remember, the homeless count is down nearly 30% over the past six years because Caritas of Austin, ECHO, and many other agencies are using solutions that work. We can make homelessness rare, short-term, and nonrecurring. Will you join us in this commitment?
Empowering Through Employment
At Caritas of Austin, we know that a stable income is the key to lasting self-sufficiency. While much of our initial work with families and individuals is focused on housing, we also have an employment program dedicated to helping people find jobs. In 2014, Caritas Employment Specialists placed nearly 600 individuals in jobs – a 25% increase over 2013.
While finding a job in Austin’s booming economy might sound easy, many of the people we serve face significant employment barriers. Barriers include a lack of job experience or transferrable skills, disabling conditions, and language barriers. This is particularly true for international refugees.
Tailyn was a practicing dentist in Havana, Cuba before she fled as a refugee in early 2014. Now living in Austin, she must start over to become a dentist in the United States. “The main difference between practicing medicine here and in my country is the technology, and [here] everything is computerized. Although there was no technology in my country, we graduated with much knowledge and preparation,” she said.
Caritas of Austin’s employment services range from pre-employment preparation, resumé development, and workforce training programs to job placement, referrals to vocational training, and help with long-term career development.
“Caritas’ employment program played a critical role in me being able to work in a dental clinic,” said Tailyn. Team members helped her obtain an initial volunteer job at a local dental practice in order to gain experience and learn the vocabulary. She said language was a big barrier. “When I arrived, one of my challenges was the English language, but Caritas of Austin offered ESL classes and this helped me along my path.”
The Caritas of Austin team eventually helped her gain employment as a dental assistant, where she currently works at a pediatric dental office. “My goal is to study and return to dental school, so that I can become a dentist in the United States.”
Another critical piece of Caritas’ work is partnering with over 200 local employers who hire clients seeking employment. “Our plan for each person we work with is customized based on their skills, experience, and career goals, so it is important we have strong relationships across many industries,” said Maritza Rosario, Caritas of Austin’s Employment Program Manager.
One recent partnership is with JW Marriott Austin. In the last two months, they have hired more than 50 individuals through Caritas’ employment program.
“The opening of our JW Marriott Austin hotel is a historical event, as it is the largest hotel in Austin and the largest JW Marriott in North America. Our partnership with Caritas of Austin is crucial in our success. We truly enjoyed meeting all the applicants from Caritas and we have hired most of them! We look forward to continuing our relationship and support Caritas of Austin in all their efforts,” said Mily Kennison, Director of Talent Acquisition – Austin Market, White Lodging.
Your support of Caritas of Austin’s employment program empowers hundreds of community members toward the life they want.
Changing lives, one at a time
Fidel had worked in construction his entire life, but as he aged and his medical conditions progressed, his body could no longer handle the physical labor. He has arthritis that causes severe leg pain, and his diabetes advanced to the point that he lost sight in one eye.
“I just kept trying to survive,” Fidel said. But with no job and no family to turn to for support, he soon became homeless and began living in a shelter. “It was so bad to live there. The noise was so much that I couldn’t sleep at night. You wait in line every day and hope for a bed, or you sleep on the streets.”
During this time, Fidel ate lunch in Caritas’ Community Kitchen every day and said that was the only meal he ate many days.
After months living at the shelter, Fidel was referred to Caritas of Austin. “He was prepared and desperately wanted to be in stable housing,” his case manager remembers. “He had every single piece of paperwork he needed and was ready to do anything it took.”
Within two weeks of working with Caritas, his case manager was able to get him an apartment of his own. Initially, Fidel worked to apply for disability benefits because of his health conditions, but when he was denied, he knew he had to find employment.
Determined to regain his self-sufficiency, Fidel began working with the Caritas employment team to find a job. Within three months, he began working part-time at a local grocery store.
“Like everything, he was motivated to do it and he believed he could,” said his case manager. Fidel started out working 20 hours a week to see if he could handle being on his feet. Over the past year, he has progressed to working full-time.
His Caritas case manager has supported Fidel through many other milestones as well, including helping him access both medical and mental health services. “I knew I needed to take care of myself,” he said. Fidel was experiencing severe depression when he began working with Caritas’ therapist. Two years later, his case manager says his progress is clear. “He has changed as a person. He is confident and at peace now.”
The two also worked together on things like setting up a bank account and starting a savings plan. His case manager even encouraged him to learn how to use a computer and communicate with his family through email. In recent months, Fidel saved up to visit his family for the first time in years.
He says that Caritas of Austin was so helpful because of all the support and resources they provided. “No other place has all of the help I needed.”
When he’s not working, Fidel’s favorite thing to do is walk down by the lake. He says it’s peaceful and it reminds him of his freedom now. “It’s a good feeling knowing I can do everything by myself.”
Will you join us in changing lives like Fidel's by making a donation today?
Homelessness: The Common Thread
Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week is November 15-23, and it is a great opportunity to raise awareness and understanding about these issues. It should also spur our community to identify how each of us can contribute to alleviating poverty, hunger, and homelessness right here in Austin.
As Caritas of Austin has grown tremendously in the past 10 years, both in our breadth of services and in the scope of whom we serve, we consistently get asked: what does it all have in common?
The common experience across every single person we serve is simple: homelessness.
At first glance, the various families and individuals we serve may appear to have little in common: individuals who have lived on the streets for years, families in crisis on the brink of eviction or living in their cars, veterans working to get back on their feet, and international refugees starting a new life in Austin. But upon further reflection, each person is on the spectrum of homelessness.
Homelessness happens for countless reasons, and each experience varies greatly. It is not simply the man or woman you see on the street corner (which actually accounts for less than 20% of overall homelessness).
Homeless happens to families who are living in poverty and are one lost job or medical emergency from being evicted. It happens to veterans who return home to find difficulty in transitioning to civilian life. And it happens to international refugees who have literally fled their home country due to war and persecution and arrive in Austin homeless, without any possessions except a suitcase.
You might also wonder what all of Caritas’ services have in common. We have a Community Kitchen serving lunch to over 300 people daily, a Pantry, an employment team working tirelessly to employ people, housing teams working with people to find stable housing they can afford, and an education program helping people learn to manage money, be a responsible tenant, and develop job readiness skills. The common thread: all are aimed at preventing and ending homelessness.
Every one of our relationship-based services is aimed at creating a turning point in people’s lives – away from crisis and homelessness. A stable home, a new job, a class on managing finances, or just a warm meal can be a turning point. Collectively, these comprehensive services - with social work professionals at the core - create a powerful foundation for people to change their life path toward self-sufficiency.
Homelessness is indeed the common experience of every person we serve, and self-sufficiency is the common goal that we work toward with everyone.
Food Drive Challenge
As we approach Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week (November 16-23), we are challenging you (yes, you!) to organize a food drive and help stock the Caritas Pantry. Every week, we distribute over
Since you might not know much about the Caritas Pantry, we will let you hear from Irma, Caritas’ Pantry Aide. She is celebrating 20 years of working at Caritas of Austin this year, so there’s no better source of information.
What was the Pantry like when you started working at Caritas of Austin 20 years ago?
When I started, the Pantry was located next door in the Annex property. It was very small, maybe 8ft by 8ft. We had just three shelves, mainly corn and green beans.
How have things changed over the years?
The size of Pantry and the number of people we are serving has changed a lot. As Caritas serves more people overall, we see more families and individuals coming to the Pantry. Just in the last couple of years, we have gone from serving about 10 people per day to 20-25 people each day.
We also see people really wanting to make healthy eating choices. Whenever Caritas has them available, people really like fresh produce, dairy products, and meats.
What’s an average “day in the life” for you?
When I get here in the morning, I check the Pantry shelves to see what we have and make sure everything is stocked. At about 8:30am, our first clients start showing up. With 20-25 people served each day, that takes up most of my day. I also make take-home bags that our staff take to clients and bag rice and beans, if I have time.
To give each client a good shopping experience, we just have one person come through the Pantry at a time. And last year, we switched to a self-shopping model so people can pick out their own foods. For some, shopping only take a couple of minutes, but for others it takes much longer. Because we serve refugees from all over the world, we help educate them on food options they might not be familiar with.
How has switching to the self-shopping model been beneficial for the people we serve?
It’s completely different. When they hear they get to shop themselves, they are amazed. People are very grateful because it gives them more dignity.
What Pantry items are most popular right now?
Canned tuna and salmon, eggs and milk, fresh meats, and rice.
What do you want the community to know?
Thank you for your donations. Lots of people just pull up and drop off donations and we don’t even know who they are. I want to invite people to come by and visit, so we can show you where your donations are going and how important they are.
I also want people to know there are lots of ways to help. We have churches that donate every month. We have restaurants and groceries stores that donate their extra food. And we have families that bring even just a bag of extra food they collected. The City of Austin and H-E-B also just donated reusable bags to us. It all helps so much.
A Young Family Rebuilds After Loss
One day LaRonda was a regular high school senior, and the next, she was the sole provider of her family and responsible for taking care of her younger brother, Randy, and sister, Patty. Two years ago, the kids’ mother died suddenly of a heart attack.
Not only were they devastated by the loss of their mom, but the three siblings had no stable support system during this overwhelming time. Because LaRonda was 18 years old and considered a legal adult, she was able to take guardianship of her siblings and prevent them from going into the foster care system. They bounced around between staying with family, at a youth shelter, and in an apartment.
“I didn’t know if I could graduate from high school,” said LaRonda. “I went from caring only about myself to putting my brother and sister first. I had to make sure the bills were paid.” LaRonda did graduate from high school and began working for a local school district. “I had to be motivated and learn how to survive on my own.”
When their rent increased dramatically due to LaRonda’s increased income, they could no longer afford to stay in their apartment and were on the brink of eviction. LaRonda’s younger sister Patty was attending a local high school where Caritas of Austin has an onsite social worker who learned about the family’s situation. Our services focused on homelessness prevention were a fit for what LaRonda’s family needed.
We were able to pay for a hotel for the three siblings to prevent them from having to stay at a shelter while they worked to find stable housing. Within two weeks, an apartment was secured that LaRonda could afford with her monthly income. “It’s been amazing how fast Caritas has helped with everything.”
Her case manager’s support did not stop there. Caritas was able to help provide basic furniture for the family and give LaRonda guidance on connecting to important resources for her siblings. “I knew nothing about taking kids to the doctor or enrolling them in school. Other places I tried to get help, people just told me what I needed to do. Caritas actually helped me do all the things I needed to do,” said LaRonda.
The family’s resilience is remarkable. “Things were especially rough for Randy. He was too young to understand what was happening, but he is finally able to talk about it now,” LaRonda said. She proudly talked about how well Randy is doing in school.
Our support is especially significant to LaRonda because she remembers years ago when her mom received assistance from Caritas of Austin: “Caritas helped my mom a few years ago. It’s really cool how you work with each family’s individual situation.” LaRonda is working toward a promotion at work, and Patty will graduate from high school next year. She said her ultimate goal is to own a house of their own someday.
These accomplishments and goals would not be possible without your support.
Make a donation today to be a turning point on someone's path toward self-sufficiency.