Homelessness State of the Union 2016

March 31, 2016

Dear Friends,

I often talk about Caritas of Austin working to make homelessness rare, short-term, and nonrecurring. This is our vision and we remain committed to that.

But are we making progress?

Earlier this month, ECHO published preliminary results of the 2016 Homeless Point- In- Time (PIT) Count. Over the past six years, the number has decreased by 29%.

But this year, that was not the case. Homelessness in our community was up 20% according to the count. As a close supporter, I want us to have an honest discussion about this reality.

A couple of things to know about the PIT Count:

  • External factors like weather can impact the number of individuals identified as homeless.  This year’s count was cold, increasing the number of people in shelter.
  • There were significantly more volunteers this year helping with the PIT count, so it is difficult to know if the number of people experiencing homelessness is up, or if the counting was just more accurate.

Despite this, the truth is our community’s resources are not keeping up with the demand for services. Homelessness is happening more rapidly than we can address it through affordable housing, and this is a trend we are seeing nationally. We must remember that the availability of affordable housing is the most important factor in our ability to end homelessness as we know it.

So, where do we go from here?

The good news is that Caritas of Austin has learned a tremendous amount over the past 10 years of using evidence-based practices to address homelessness. Going forward, we must garner the resources necessary to scale these proven solutions proportionate to the rate at which homelessness is happening.

One inspiring example to demonstrate this truth is what our city has accomplished in ending veteran homelessness. We are incredibly close to achieving that goal, giving us a microcosm of what’s possible when resources are present. From federal housing vouchers for veterans and the mayoral challenge to end veteran homelessness, to the community’s support and Caritas’ work to rapidly rehouse veterans, it is this unified approach that works.

As an agency, we are actively exploring new ways to partner with housing developers to create housing for people with significant housing barriers.

We have also increased advocacy efforts with local and national leaders to bring about systemic change to make it easier to create affordable housing and remove obstacles for people who have housing barriers.

Be assured that every dollar of your support to Caritas of Austin is being put to work to end homelessness in the most effective ways possible. Though it often feels like we are swimming upstream, we are making progress. We have solutions that work, but they are not possible without your support.

With gratitude,

Jo Kathryn Quinn, Executive Director

 

A New Start, A New Career Path

February 10, 2016
 

When Onel arrived in Austin last May, he was determined to get on a successful career path with Caritas of Austin’s help.

In Cuba, he worked as an aircraft technician and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Aviation.

“I have never had a client as motivated as Onel has been to further his education and obtain professional certification. From day one, he was willing to do anything it took to go to school,” said Fuad, Onel’s employment specialist at Caritas.

As is the case with many individuals resettling in Austin from around the world, Onel must restart his career from the ground up since most certifications and professional experience do not transfer.

Caritas’ Employment team often works with refugees who were lawyers, doctors, and engineers in their home country. While these individuals may have to find an entry level job to begin with, the Caritas team also supports their transition back into their field of practice through education and certification.

Because of Onel’s professional background, the Caritas team explored various vocational training options to help Onel advance his career in Austin. The Austin Career Institute offers a 4-month HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) program that interested Onel. The program is taught in Spanish and includes an English proficiency component, which was a perfect fit for his needs.

Because of your generosity, Caritas of Austin was able to underwrite Onel’s HVAC certification program. In August, Onel began the program on weekends, and he works in apartment construction and maintenance during the week.

After completing the program, Onel will be able to build on his current job and begin specializing in more technical work. With Austin’s warm climate, HVAC professionals are in very high demand and typically earn a minimum of $15 per hour.

Helping people obtain jobs that earn a living wage is a priority of Caritas’ Employment team, and it takes community employment partners in all industries to open doors to these opportunities.

Fuad said Onel’s enthusiasm to succeed pushed him even further to help him do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.

Onel said Fuad and other Caritas staff members have been invaluable during his first months in the United States. “They are all wonderful. They have given me much advice and support and helped me get a job I hoped for. All of their services help people get ahead.”

In a year, he hopes to advance both in his professional skills and his English proficiency. He is well on his way thanks to your support of work!

If you are interested in learning more about Caritas of Austin’s Employment program, contact Amitiss Mahvash at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

A Family Finds Stability Again

October 28, 2015
 

Lashanya, a single mother, has lived in Austin her entire life. She said she has never known anything other than stability until last year.“I always had a steady job and lived in the same apartment for nearly eight years,”she said.

Lashanya was pregnant with her son, Aiden, last summer and employed through a temporary staffing agency. She was put on bed rest when she was around seven months pregnant due to high blood pressure and was unable to work for the remaining two months of pregnancy.

Without a source of income and increasing medical expenses, Lashanya and her children became homeless, spending the next seven months bouncing around staying with family members and sleeping in her car. She remembers the cold, rainy nights being the hardest. Lashanya continued having health issues after she gave birth, which delayed her ability to find work again. She had no one to turn to for support.

Someone finally mentioned Caritas’ housing programs that help people experiencing homelessness, and she called for help. “It was such a good feeling to hear from Rachel, who became my Caritas case manager. She is amazing. From the moment I first spoke with her, I felt like I wasn’t even homeless anymore because she gave me hope that everything was going to be okay.”

Thanks to a strong relationship with a local landlord who believes in Caritas’ work, the landlord mentioned having a home for rent available that would meet Lashanya and her family’s needs. Within just a few weeks, they moved in.

“Being able to have a home that we can call our own felt so good,” said Lashanya. “The kids were so excited they wanted to miss school on the day we moved in! They didn’t even care that we had no furniture yet; they just loved running around in the house.”

Caritas was able to provide the family with household furniture for the home. Rachel also helped Lashanya get groceries from the Caritas Pantry and connected her to mental health services.

Most importantly, Lashanya now had the stability needed to seek employment. She recently found a job and is on the path to self-sufficiency. “I am so excited to work again,” she said. “I am ready to be the parent that can do all the things I want for my children again.”

Lashanya has a hard time even thinking back on how much they have struggled over the past year. “The hardest part was not knowing where we were going to sleep each night.”

Lashanya's stability is so important for her children's futures. We know that the less time children spend in unstable living situations, the more likely they are to thrive academically and lead productive lives as adults.

She can’t express enough gratitude for Caritas’ help during her time of greatest need. “This program helps you become the person you were before, and that’s priceless.”

Rachel has been inspired working with Lashanya. “Working with this family has been a joy. As early as our first meeting, I could tell that she was ready to work to get through her hard time and find a home for her family. Experiencing homelessness while pregnant is an unimaginable circumstance for a lot of people, but Lashanya got through it and has shown amazing resiliency.”

Now Lashanya’s looking toward the future with hope. Over the next year, her biggest goal is just to maintain stability and happiness for her family. This story of hope and resilience would not be possible without your support!

A Veteran Commits To Helping Others

December 10, 2015
 

Billy served in the United States Army for three years in the early 1990s. He was among the first troops deployed to Iraq during the Desert Storm War. His primary role in the Army was around refueling helicopters, which put him in the middle of combat.

He said he saw and experienced things that he will never be able to forget.

As is the case with many veterans, Billy had an extremely difficult time when he returned home to Texas. Rather than getting the help he needed to cope with the trauma he experienced, he just tried to block it out. Billy fell into drinking and substance abuse and continued to struggle with it for the next 15 years. He mostly worked in the oil fields, but had a hard time keeping jobs due to his addiction.

“For 15 years, I just hid behind the realities I lived through during the war in Iraq,” he said.

In 2014, Billy hit his lowest point, but is also turned out to be the best thing for his life. He was sentenced to nine months of jail time for theft and drug use. But soon after he began serving time, the first-ever Military Veteran Peer Network program was being implemented in Texas, and Billy was selected to be a part. The six-month program involved PTSD therapy, substance abuse treatment, and peer-to-peer veteran counseling.

“I never got the help I needed after the war. The peer network program really helped me realize my issues and face them.”

When he completed the program, Billy still faced some tough decisions. He decided to stay in the Austin area and get a fresh start rather than return to his hometown in west Texas. He lived in a temporary halfway house and had nothing to his name except a few sets of clothing.

Even though Billy was a changed man, now sober for over six months, he needed help getting a job and stable housing of his own. The VA referred him to Caritas’ veterans program, and he was amazed how quickly things started to fall into place. 

“From the first time I met with Karrie at Caritas, I felt sure things were going to be okay and that these people were committed to my success.”

They identified an apartment within a week’s time, and Billy moved into his own studio apartment just a couple of weeks later. “I can’t even explain what it felt like to be in my own place. It is so quiet and peaceful here.”

Just weeks after moving in, Billy was approached by a friend who worked on the maintenance crew for his apartment complex, seeing if he needed a job. After seeing Billy’s work, he was hired on the spot and now helps oversee all maintenance needs for nine neighborhood apartment complexes.

“It feels good to have a job and a steady income. I am really back on my feet now.”

During this time of transition, Caritas of Austin also helped Billy with apartment furnishings, food from the Caritas Pantry, bus passes, and budgeting assistance to help him plan for the future. Billy also still participates in ongoing mental health and sobriety counseling.

“We can’t forget about our veterans, those who are fighting for our freedoms. We can’t forget about what they are coming back with – they badly need therapy and to be connected to support services.”

Billy says he felt like he lost his whole life, and now he has it back again thanks to Caritas. “I can’t say enough about Caritas. You all have changed my world. You have been my rock.”

Now Billy is committed to helping other veterans who are struggling. “Anything I can do to help another veteran, I will do it. No one understands what a veteran has been through except another veteran.” With your assistance, we can continue to assist veterans like Billy as they move towards self-sufficiency. 

 

Throwing First Pitch Honors Veteran's Success

July 1, 2015

On May 27, Tim York got to throw out the first pitch at the Round Rock Express baseball game to honor our local veterans. After recently moving out of homelessness to stable housing and employment, this event was a symbolic celebration of starting the next chapter in Tim’s life.

After moving to Austin last fall, the Army veteran soon found himself homeless, sleeping in his car.

Tim enlisted in the Army after high school and served for six years. He then settled in New Jersey and began running a demolition business with a friend. After that business eventually went under, Tim spiraled into a dark cycle of depression, isolation, and alcoholism. He knew he needed help and eventually found a rehab program to get clean.

Tim enrolled in community college, and after obtaining his Associate’s Degree, he pursued his Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Economics at Empire State College. He graduated last year but struggled to find a job in his field. That’s when he decided to pack up and move to Austin.

Tim expected to stay with a family member in Austin while he looked for housing and employment. But after that option fell through, he had nowhere to go and began sleeping in his car.

“I tried to look at the positive side of everything, even during this time. I thought to myself, ‘At least it’s not snowing’,” he laughed.

Before Tim started working with Caritas of Austin, he connected with Goodwill Industries to help him find a job. After he did not get selected for the first couple of jobs he applied for, his spirits were down. He got a temporary job at Popeye’s Chicken, just to earn enough to provide gas money to leave Austin for good.

Then he learned about an Area Project Manager position at Goodwill and was encouraged to apply. “I was a little cynical that they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have enough qualifications and experience.” He ended up getting the job, and he now oversees maintenance teams for numerous business customers across the city.

“I love my job. I have flexible hours, it matches my skills, and I am trusted to get the job done.”

Things really started looking brighter as Tim also began working with Caritas of Austin’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Caritas staff helped Tim locate an apartment, and program funds were used to cover his initial housing and furniture costs. He was able to move in just three weeks after enrolling in the program.

His case manager Aimee said Tim has been inspiring to work with. “He has been so adaptable and resilient. He wasn’t afraid to start over.”

Now Tim is starting to feel like Austin is home. He’s been meeting new people in his apartment complex, exploring Austin, and is thriving at work. “I never gave up,” he said.

As for his thoughts on throwing the first pitch out, he said, “The plate is much farther away than I thought!”

Learn more about our Veterans program and how you can help end local veteran homelessness by 2016 HERE!

 

Impacting Lives Through Volunteerism

August 20, 2015

Arielle was teaching Arabic at a local high school when she encountered a family that would change her life. She was asked to help translate for a refugee family resettled in Austin after fleeing Iraq. This was her first exposure to refugees, and she said, “It blew my mind.”

She was struck by the horrific trauma the family had experienced, including the children witnessing a family member being killed. Now the family was in a brand new country and culture, starting over with nothing while trying to process the past they had to leave behind.

Arielle was so moved that she was ready to get involved helping refugees in a more structured way. Last August, she began volunteering at Caritas of Austin.

After going through volunteer training at Caritas, she was matched with an Iraqi family of four – a mother and her three children – to support them during their first months in Austin.

She assisted with grocery shopping, helping the family decipher coupons and choose healthy options. They explored Austin through free activities at Zilker Park, Barton Springs, and various parks around town. She worked with the kids on their English homework and assisted their mom with paperwork and scheduling appointments. “Mostly, we just had fun and went on adventures together,” Arielle said.

While Arielle’s proficiency in Arabic was invaluable with this particular family, she also started working with a Congolese refugee family. “Even though we can’t communicate well, we still enjoy being in one another’s company and have found ways to connect beyond our language barrier.”

Arielle helped expose this family’s children to English, and many neighbor kids who were also refugees often came over and gathered around the computer for her teaching lessons. “The kids are so engaged and eager to learn. I think there is more of an appreciation toward education with them; they don’t take it for granted.”

Over the past year, Arielle has seen Caritas’ work with refugees firsthand. “Everyone on staff provides such active support. Beyond just financial support, Caritas is always there to help these families. They are flexible and attentive, always available when needed.”

Reflecting on what she has learned from this experience, she focuses inwardly. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and how privileged I am to have grown up with so much stability. The trauma these families have been through, we cannot even understand. Coming here, there are so many details they do not have command over, which makes every part of life super difficult. But they are powerful people, growing incredibly strong and resilient during this process.”

When asked what she would tell others about volunteering, she said it has been a great way to step outside herself, especially after her long days of work, where time with these families put her own problems into perspective and give her a fresh sense of gratitude. “If you want an insightful, interesting experience where you have a tangible impact, volunteer with Caritas!” If you are interested in volunteering, contact Houmma Garba at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .