A Message from Jo Kathryn Quinn
August 16, 2017
In light of recent events in Charlottesville, VA, I’ve spent significant time thinking about what happened and how it might inform our work at Caritas of Austin. With each successive horrific event, our attention is focused for a couple of days before we return to life as usual. The events in Charlottesville revealed significant hatred and bigotry, and they remind me we have difficult work to do to enable healing and healthy connection. These were acts of open protest and violence in a specific time and place that could be seen, heard and felt across the country.
How does that same prejudice play out in hidden, intangible ways day in and day out? At Caritas of Austin we see personally, and every day as we walk in our building at 7th and Neches Streets, the disproportionality of homelessness. Our daily perception is confirmed in community-wide data which shows that 65.9% people experiencing homelessness are people of color* compared to 49.5% in our general population.** This is an indicator of significant inequity. While we fancy our city as a boom town and innovation hub, implicit bias and unconscious racism undermine our ability to connect everyone to real opportunity and the benefits of the local economy.
Our work at Caritas of Austin intersects with people when the cumulative effect of limited opportunity ultimately translates into homelessness. Core to our work is the belief that every person deserves dignity and respect, the opportunity to feel human. Our work with each person shifts the story from circumstances back to opportunity. I implore you to join us as we work together to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive and realize their dreams.
Jo Kathryn Quinn, Executive Director
* 2017 Point in Time Count – Ending Community Homelessness Coalition
**2010 Census data for Austin, Texas
"You Saved Me From The Streets"
August 11, 2017
Your support is not only saving people from the devastating experience of living on the streets; it’s enabling people to recover from addiction, rediscover their passions, and become contributors.
Bill Colin was homeless for six years, but thanks to your generosity, he has now been stably housed for over a year.
When you walk into his apartment, the first thing you’ll notice is a big art table with several projects in process, and finished art pieces covering the walls. When experiencing homelessness, Bill used to walk around downtown and collect any interesting objects he came across.
“I walked the streets and always noticed all the junk. But some junk is really cool looking,” he said. Bill makes pieces of art with the objects he finds, using art as a creative and healing outlet.
Bill’s piece called “The Struggle” was entered into the Texas Health and Human Services Creative Arts Contest this spring in honor of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month. He won 1st place in the mixed media contest. The pride in his smile speaks powerfully about the work you make possible.
He has a poster hanging in his apartment that reads, “your struggle is part of your story.” That truth helped inspire “The Struggle” and also motivates him daily to continue looking forward while honoring the past.
Bill has multiple layers of support because of you: a case manager providing day-to-day support in accomplishing life goals, a therapist who is helping Bill with recovery and anxiety, and a peer support professional who shares the same lived experiences.
His Peer Support Specialist says, “In recovery, you have to do the work, and Bill’s fully invested in doing the work. He meditates daily, he’s making positive relationships, and he’s attending AA meetings regularly.”
Bill’s pastor at Sunshine Church asked him to display his art pieces at their church and sell them. Bill won’t accept money for them but gives people the option to donate money to the church or other causes. “It makes me feel good to give something away,” he says.
Moving forward, Bill’s goals are to go back to work and potentially go to school. He also adds something candid that many people take for granted. “I just want to function in society,” he says in a powerful statement.
Thank you for helping create futures full of progress and hope – we cannot truly end homelessness as we know it without you.
Building Careers, Not Just Jobs
June 13, 2017
One of the ways your support helps people reach their full potential is through career development.
Together, we go beyond just placing people in jobs. You help us connect people to higher education, vocational training, and career paths that match their interests. “Our team has a personalized approach with each person we serve, trying to match their skills and passions to a job that enables them to provide for their family,” said Amitiss Mahvash, Employment Program Manager.
Yoeblis Alcolea was a family doctor in Cuba, but when he moved to the United States through the Cuban Medical Professionals Parolee program, he had to restart his life. Still, he was determined to become a doctor in Austin and, thanks to you, he is on his way!
As is the case with many refugees, Yoeblis had limited English proficiency, which impacted the job opportunities available to him. He got his first job at a hotel but worked with his Employment Specialist at Caritas of Austin to begin the process for medical recertification and employment in the healthcare field.
Because of your generosity, Caritas of Austin created an Introduction to Healthcare Professions program to help people understand the U.S. healthcare landscape and learn the skills needed to gain employment. Expanded offerings like this are not possible without you.
In March of last year, Yoeblis got a job at Community Care as a bilingual medical assistant, and Caritas of Austin was able to pay for his certification for this position. He works in pediatrics, seeing infants through adolescents for primary care and preventative health needs. He loves his work and will take his first recertification exam later this year to become a doctor.
Khairullah Danish is another example of the futures you are helping create. Khairullah and his family resettled as refugees last November. At home in Afghanistan, he served as an interpreter for the United States military but he also had experience working in a tailor shop. Seeing a trend of refugees interested in using sewing skills to restart their careers, the Caritas team began partnering with local clothing and furniture stores.
One new partnership is with a large bridal store chain who was interested in hiring individuals for tailoring and seamstress work. The bridal store hired Khairullah and his 19-year-old daughter earlier this year. He said he really likes his job and the people he works with.
Khairullah has even bigger entrepreneurial dreams with relation to his work. “I would love to have my own tailoring store. My wife and two older daughters also know this work, so we could do it together and hopefully even hire other refugees. I want to work with the Caritas team to help make this possible,” he added.
Because of your support, 626 people found jobs last year. You also helped us expand internal workforce development programs and nearly triple funds to pay for external vocational programs like Commercial Driver’s License and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) – industries where people can make $16-25 per hour upon completion.
You are creating career paths! Mahvash puts it simply: “What we consider true success is when clients tell us they love what they’re doing. It’s all about matching their skills and passions to set them on a path of success.”
Beating the Odds
May 17, 2017
Managing cancer is a full time job. It takes over your life, and as hard as it is to beat the odds, it's near impossible when experiencing homelessness. But Victor Hauser is battling his disease one day at a time, and he now looks forward with hope thanks to the support of Caritas of Austin’s Veterans program.
Despite reaching a major milestone last August of a “functional zero” for veteran homelessness in Austin, the work is not done and there are still veterans who find themselves in a housing crisis. Caritas of Austin is more committed than ever to ensuring no veteran remains unhoused for long now that an effective community-wide system is in place.
A military veteran of the Strategic Air Command (1973-1979), Victor's life was upended on Thanksgiving Day 2015 when his roommate passed away from a heart attack. He could no longer pay both shares of the rent, which triggered a move from Dallas to Austin that soon brought him to a local shelter.
“When you're homeless, it infects you,” says Victor. “It isn't fear; it's hopelessness that there doesn't seem to be a future.”
After a few weeks, Victor found a security job at JW Marriott and temporary veteran housing with Green Doors. When a sore throat turned debilitating, he could no longer make it to work. Soon after losing his job, his temporary housing came to an end, which is when he found out about Caritas of Austin’s veteran support.
“If it hadn't been for Caritas, I would've been back in the homeless shelter and I would not have gotten my diagnosis and treatment for cancer in time. So without Caritas of Austin, I would probably be dead,” says Victor.
Through the help of the Caritas of Austin team, whom Victor describes as having a relentless “warrior mentality” towards helping others, he found a new home at a co-op in the Crestview neighborhood. The room came with a “welcome home” package of pillows, sheets, towels, and kitchen utensils, thanks to community donors, and the Caritas Pantry helped put food on the table for Victor.
It was shortly after moving that he received the diagnosis of Stage 4 throat cancer and began a regimen of chemotherapy, treatment he wouldn't have been able to maintain without transportation help from Caritas of Austin volunteers. For now the cancer is under control, but it could easily return.
“I've just come to the conclusion that I'm going to do the very best I can with what I have,” says Victor.
Like cancer, homelessness leaves scars that don't heal quickly. Even after transitioning into permanent housing, it's hard to escape from the devastation and hopelessness of life on the streets. For a veteran like Victor who arrived in Austin with only his Air Force duffel bag, owning some simple domestic items goes a long way towards creating a feeling of home. And co-op housing offered a built-in supportive social circle that starkly contrasted the survival that went along with homelessness. Only after six months does he finally feel the sense of security that most Austinites take for granted.
“Caritas is something worth continuing, growing, and nurturing. For all of you listening, please help Caritas, because it's helping all of us.”
Thank you for your continued support of Caritas of Austin’s work with veterans and hundreds of others as we work to restore stability, build holistic wellbeing, and help people reach their full potential.
12 Things to Know About Refugees Right Now
February 13, 2017
When a refugee lands at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, they’re technically considered homeless. Although Caritas of Austin might be best known for our Community Kitchen or helping end veteran homelessness, we also work to ensure newly arrived refugees have a safe home, basic needs, and comprehensive support during their first months in Austin.
Here are 12 things you might not know about Caritas’ refugee services, the potential impact of federal changes, and how you can get involved.
- Last year, Caritas of Austin resettled refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Cameroon, Uganda, Syria, and Zambia.
- Were President Trump’s travel ban to be reinstated with regard to refugees, Caritas of Austin could face a $400,000 to $500,000 funding gap during the proposed 120-day pause on new refugee arrivals, putting several of our staff positions at risk.
- Already-arrived refugees would still receive temporary financial assistance, but there likely would be a temporary loss of funding for the professional staff members who support these refugees, including #4 - #6 below.
- Each of our resettlement case managers simultaneously supports numerous refugees with tasks such as picking them up at the airport when they arrive in Austin, setting up their apartment, helping children enroll in school, and connecting refugees to healthcare and other resources.
- Employment specialists at Caritas of Austin connect refugees to jobs and ensure self-sufficiency within six months of arrival, including resume and interview assistance, workforce training programs, and ongoing employer support. Over the past year, our employment specialists have helped over 400 refugees find work at employers ranging from the healthcare industry to hospitality and manufacturing.
- Education specialists teach week-long cultural orientations when refugees arrive and job readiness classes to teach skills that help refugees obtain employment. Refugees experience drastic culture differences and must learn new ways of grocery shopping, interacting with public safety professionals, and navigating transportation.
- The potential effects of a temporary ban are devastating because Caritas of Austin is still required, and committed, to serving the 495 refugees on its current caseload (separate from new arrivals). That includes 249 refugees who have arrived since September, 87 of them children. (Numbers as of 2/6/17)
- Since the stay was issued last week, Caritas of Austin has returned to “business as usual”, welcoming 5 new refugee families last week and 12 families this week.
- After becoming registered as a refugee with UNHCR (The United Nations refugee agency), all refugees are already subject to a multi-layer vetting process including background checks, interviews, and health screenings with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. This entire process takes more than a year, often multiple years.
- Within 8 months, the vast majority of refugees are living self-sufficiently, and are no longer eligible for SNAP, Medicaid, or other assistance programs. Additionally, every refugee who is at least 18 years old must repay the U.S. government for their plane ticket, further reducing their economic footprint.
And now, most importantly…
- Want to help? We need you now more than ever. Monetary donations ensure that Caritas can maintain a full staff during times of funding uncertainty. You can also donate HEB or Walmart gift card to go toward groceries, or a rice cooker, which is the most requested item by refugees.
- Calling your representatives might seem futile, but it is not. It is the best channel to make your voice heard across both political parties. If you want refugee resettlement to continue without pause, please continue to call your national legislators and tell them so.
In Gratitude to Volunteers
April 24, 2017
We are taking time this week to shine the spotlight on some very important supporters: our amazing community of volunteers. From serving lunch in the kitchen to helping refugees move into new homes, these are some of the people who are making an impact on homelessness in Austin.
Lauren Gore, Community Kitchen Volunteer
"I am motivated by the difference these meals make in the day-to-day lives of the people we serve."
Lauren started volunteering as a way to use her background working in a sustainable kitchen to help people in difficult circumstances.
She sees the impact of the Community Kitchen first-hand and says, “Jenn and Brandon are amazingly creative and resourceful chefs, and hearing people say things like ‘Wow this is delicious—this is the kind of stuff I make for myself when I have money!’ is really awesome.”
Lauren is also preparing to help newly arrived refugees through an internship at Caritas of Austin.
Mark Janchar, Housing Services / Supportive Services for Veteran Families Volunteer
“I share the Caritas vision that every veteran should have a home and the resources to achieve stability and self-sufficiency.”
Mark felt personally called to volunteer after his job as a paramedic brought him into contact with many veterans experiencing homelessness. He shares that his father was a physician for the Public Health Service in the Vietnam War, “His service to our soldiers and veterans is an inspiration to me. Every vet that I talk to is amazingly grateful that someone has taken the time to listen to them. After all they have done, I feel this is the very least we can do.”
Kristen Hansen, Administrative Volunteer for the Refugee Resettlement Program
“I’ve been humbled by the wide variety of stories people bring with them to Austin.”
When Kristen began looking for a way to take action on the refugee crisis, she noticed that Caritas of Austin kept coming up in her searches. Helping with the essential filing and paperwork for Resettlement is truly rewarding, she says. “Every staff member I’ve met just seems to be passionate about helping those in need no matter where they come from or what their circumstances are,” Kristen shares. “At the end of a volunteering session, I always feel like at least one staff member’s load is a little lighter, so they’re able to concentrate more on the people they serve.”
Wortham Insurance, Community Kitchen Volunteers
“The impact you can have on another person’s life is often much bigger than you think."
The employees of Wortham Insurance feel that it’s important to give back to the Austin community, and one way they do this is through serving in our Community Kitchen. They shared that it’s fun to do hands-on work together for an important cause. “Volunteering at Caritas is a great way to step outside your ordinary routine and do some good. I would encourage other businesses to do the same,” one employee says.
Bayley Chang, Apartment Setup for Refugee Resettlement Volunteer
“I wish more people know how easy it is to get involved and volunteer.”
Bayley began volunteering as a way to help meet the needs of the refugee community, one family at a time. She says, “I felt I needed to stand up for those being marginalized.” As an apartment setup volunteer, Bayley helps furnish an empty apartment, making it as welcoming as possible for an arriving family. “By volunteering my time to set up an apartment, it allows the staff more time to work one on one with the clients,” she says. “I continue to be inspired by the resilience, bravery, and tenacity demonstrated by the clients of Caritas.”