Giving Thanks at Caritas of Austin

November 27, 2013

Caritas of Austin - Giving Thanks 2013 from Caritas of Austin on Vimeo.

Dear Friends,

This Thanksgiving, our staff wants to personally thank you for your support of Caritas of Austin this year. Please take a moment to watch the video above!

Without you, we would not be able to provide housing, food, education and employment assistance - all of which lead to self-sufficiency -  to over 20,000 people each year.

As the cold winter weather has already arrived, it is now more important than ever to help our neighbors move off the streets and into stable housing and to prevent homelessness for hundreds of families who are currently in crisis.

Please donate today to help provide the path to self-sufficiency for the individual and families we serve.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!


JK signature Emma

Jo Kathryn Quinn, Executive Director


Honoring Our Veterans

November 11, 2013 

PTSD family-outside-military-dad editedVeteran’s Day is a time for our country to honor the service and loyalty of all men and women who have served our country. It is also a time to consider how each of us can continue supporting the needs of the veterans living right here in Austin and Travis County.

Caritas of Austin prides itself on continually improving and expanding its services to best meet the needs of our community. Our expanded Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program is just one more example of that. Caritas has received funding through the Veteran’s Administration to end and prevent homelessness for 150 veteran families in Travis County over the next year. It is estimated that more than 300 veterans are currently homeless in Austin. This program is part of a larger national initiative to end all veteran homelessness by 2015.

“As we celebrate Veteran’s Day at Caritas of Austin, we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to honor those who have served our country by helping them find stable housing and employment, and ultimately achieve self-sufficiency,” said Caritas of Austin Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn.

The SSVF team at Caritas has already made great progress. In the past two months of the program, Caritas staff members have helped house 22 veteran families. They are currently working with 30 additional families providing supportive services to enable these families to become self-sufficient.  “We are seeing the face of homelessness change to a much younger population. For many, it’s due to the economy and lack of affordable housing and living wage jobs,” says Kay Fohn, SSVF Program Manager.  “Our primary focus is helping our veterans obtain the most basic need any of us has: shelter.  It is unrealistic for us to expect our homeless veterans to become self-sufficient without having safe, permanent and affordable housing.”

One of these veteran families is 28-year-old Phillip and his wife Katie, who had been living in their car for months before getting connected to Caritas of Austin’s services. Now, they are in an apartment of their own, and Phillip and Katie are both employed. Phillip said, “Most people don’t realize how much the small comforts mean until they lose them. Where I am at right now is purely because of the help I got from Caritas. Without them, I’d still be living in a car or probably worse right now.”

Fohn added, “A big part of what we do is give them hope that things will get better. We are there to be their advocates and help them find their voice again. Our veterans served our country when called and we have a responsibility to return that service."

Caritas of Austin needs your help to support these veterans as they transition out of homelessness. There are several ways you can help:

• Donate items from our Wish List or give gift cards to help our newly housed veterans fill their homes

• Make a financial donation to Caritas

• Help connect Caritas of Austin to landlords and property owners who are interested in renting to veterans

• Connect Caritas of Austin to employers interested in employing veterans

Together, we can honor our local veterans most in need of help. Will you join us?

For more information about renting to veterans or helping employ veterans, contact Kay Fohn at 512.646.1287


A Letter from Caritas' New Board President, John Cyrier

October 9, 2013 

John CyrierDear Friends,

First, I want to thank you for your support of Caritas of Austin. It is an honor to serve as President of the Board of Directors for such a remarkable organization, particularly as we prepare to celebrate our 50th anniversary this coming year.

In 2009, I was encouraged to get involved with Caritas through friends, primarily based on my construction experience as Caritas was in the middle of building renovations. After getting to know the organization and leadership, I wanted to do more. In early 2010, I joined the Board of Directors and now have the honor of serving as this year’s President.  I learned very quickly why Travis County and the City of Austin has such a great respect for the organization and why Caritas of Austin has become a staple in our community for 50 years.    I am amazed of the great impact Caritas has each year on over 20,000 lives with services that are focused on helping people achieve lasting self-sufficiency.  

As the Austin area continues to grow at record pace, affordable housing is becoming increasingly scarce.   This impacts all populations we serve and puts even more people at risk of experiencing poverty and homelessness.   Now more than ever, I ask you to partner with us through your time or resources to help us achieve our mission. With your support, Caritas will continue to make a difference in our community for the next 50 years.    


Cyrier signature for Emma 2

John Cyrier
President, Caritas of Austin Board of Directors
President, Sabre Commercial, Inc.

Housing First... And The Rest Will Follow!

September 16, 2013 by Lori Frasco, Director of Housing Services

The concept of “Housing First” is beautifully simple – it is built on an evidence-based practice that the primary need for people who are experiencing homelessness or at-risk of becoming homeless is HOUSING.  By housing, I mean stable, long-term housing.  Once this primary and basic need is met, individuals and families can then start to address other issues such as lack of income, substance abuse, mental health, physical conditions, etc.  This may seem counterintuitive, but just think for a minute about how difficult it would be to address areas of crisis in your life when you are unsure of where you will sleep at night. Many housing programs and housing providers require the client to be sober for a certain length of time, have income- 2-3 times the rental amount, have NO criminal background, etc. Unfortunately, these policies often prevent people from being stably housed.    

Housing First is a philosophy in which Caritas firmly believes, and it is the primary approach we take to serving clients in their goals of stability and self-sufficiency.

The Housing First approach provides housing for people without conditions.  Research shows that, for chronically homeless individuals, stable housing is an essential component of successful recovery. The solution to the problem of chronic homelessness is permanent supportive housing, which is housing coupled with supportive services. With appropriate supports, permanent housing can serve as a foundation for rehabilitation, therapy, and improved health.

What's more, it is a cost-effective intervention. Chronically homeless individuals living in permanent supportive housing are far less likely to draw on expensive public services. They are also less likely to end up in homeless shelters, emergency rooms, or jails, none of which are effective interventions for chronic homelessness. Public costs – whether local, state or federal – are therefore reduced. For people at risk of becoming homeless, it is significantly less expensive to provide assistance to ensure stable housing remains intact than trying to help them recover after a period of becoming homeless. Prevention assistance can help communities reduce the size of their homeless population, including the number of people entering the homeless assistance system and the demand for shelter and other programmatic housing beds.

At Caritas of Austin, we see how effective the Housing First approach is every day. For example, we have a client who had been homeless for the past seven years. After we successfully got him into housing, he has begun to address mental health issues and now has a stable income and works in upholstery, his profession prior to falling into homelessness. We also serve hundreds of clients each year that come to us on the brink of eviction. We can help them remain in housing and then provide ongoing case management to ensure long-term success. At the foundation of all of this is the belief that housing is both a necessity and a right. At Caritas, we live by this belief and we are confident it is what makes us so successful in preventing and ending homelessness in Austin.

It is important to note the demand for housing in our community far exceeds our ability to serve those in the most need. Here’s how you can help:

  • Support affordable housing expansion including the $65 million bond package on the November ballot. Vote YES! Visit to learn more. 
  • Help Caritas reach more landlords, property managers, and property owners willing to partner with Caritas in overcoming many of the housing barriers our clients face.

The Truth About Homelessness: Overcoming Housing Barriers

July 26, 2013 by Lori Frasco, Housing Services Director

Spring Terrace editedRegardless of the lens through which you view Caritas of Austin, housing is both the problem and the solution for the individuals and families we serve. Caritas fights every day to prevent and end homelessness – we are laser-focused on addressing three areas: housing, income and self-care. These are the core areas that lead to self-sufficiency.

The lack of affordable housing is a significant barrier for low-income households and can prevent them from meeting their other basic needs, such as nutrition and health care, or saving for the future. Did you know that Austin is one of the top ten MOST expensive rental markets in the U.S.? This is a significant problem for Austinites who are living well under the poverty guideline level – we are a city that has 98% occupancy rate for rental property and little affordable housing. In addition to a lack of affordable housing, our clients are faced with other significant housing barriers including:

  • Rental properties requiring 2 - 3 times the amount in rent for monthly income
  • Individuals/families working fulltime but not making a livable wage
  • Criminal backgrounds, even minor, non-violent offenses that may have occurred years ago
  • Mental and physical health challenges and substance abuse

Caritas of Austin spends 72% of our annual budget on housing alone – evidence that we consider housing the number one priority to achieving or preserving stability. We serve the most vulnerable of individuals and families. The individuals and families we serve are experiencing one of two things:

  1. They are at eminent risk of losing their housing
  2. They are currently experiencing homelessness.

The foundation of our work to house those who are in crisis funnels into three areas:

  • Prevention – is the housing model used for someone who is at-risk of losing their housing. Caritas staff members work with the individual/family and the current landlord to save the current housing and therefore preventing homelessness. 
  • Rapid re-housing – is the housing model used for someone who has recently lost their housing and is currently experiencing short-term homelessness. The Caritas team works to quickly find housing. The goal is to get the individual or family housed immediately.
  • Supportive Housing - is the housing model used for individuals who have experienced homelessness for an extended period of time. The goal is to move clients off the streets and into a stable living situation. Caritas staff provides crisis intervention, ongoing case management, and other support services.

While the barriers are significant, it is our vision to have a true Housing First model. With a Housing First model, we house individuals immediately regardless of their barriers. Housing First will get people to a safe environment of their own and allow them to transition out of homelessness. The changes that can occur in someone when they have a roof over their head are truly astounding. When their focus is not on safety and survival, people can thrive. Affordable housing and innovative solutions to overcoming housing barriers are the important next steps to systematic change. We need the community’s support in tackling such a large, complex issue. We hope you’ll join us as we continue moving toward a true Housing First model. 

This article is the second in a 5-part series on homelessness





The Truth About Homelessness: What Homelessness is Costing You

August 7, 2013 by Jo Kathryn Quinn, Executive Director

Ambulance editedIt is rather counterintuitive that someone experiencing homelessness is costly. After all, why would it be costly? The person isn’t paying to be homeless; you aren’t paying for them to be homeless. Then who is paying if there is a cost to homelessness? The fact is….homelessness is costing you a lot of money.

Your tax dollars are spent in unnecessary ways for people trying to survive on the streets. Just think for a moment what it costs for EMS to respond to a health emergency for someone living on the streets. This happens numerous times every day. Then there’s the cost for emergency care at the hospital. There are significant costs associated with public shelters providing temporary housing for the homeless.  Daily the police frequently respond to situations involving the homeless; this costs taxpayer money. There’s more cost in the criminal justice system dealing with homelessness related crimes like urinating in public, sleeping on the sidewalk, etc. – all things people would not be doing if they weren’t homeless. Then we pay someone to clean the sidewalk.

All these costs are more than it costs to pay for someone’s housing. Think about it…right now we’re paying more money for a poor result – people are still homeless. You could pay less money for a permanent solution to homelessness.

Caritas of Austin is effectively addressing the issue of homelessness by preventing it and ending it for people in our community. Using evidence-based methods, this year our organization will prevent homelessness and end short-term homelessness for 2,000 people. Additionally, we have already taken 150 people off the streets this year who have been living on the streets for a long time.

Caritas of Austin operates over 150 units of supportive housing – most of which are used to house and stabilize the very people you see when you walk the streets of downtown.  85% of those who have participated in Caritas’ supportive housing have become stable and do not return to the streets. 

Caritas engages each client in a plan for self-sufficiency which includes increasing their income, paying rent, and taking care of their physical and mental health needs.  We provide an affordable place for people to live, so their housing isn’t at risk when there’s an emergency. Our Social Work professionals facilitate progress so clients don’t need our help indefinitely and can live independently.

We need your help to continue and expand these efforts until all persons experiencing homelessness in downtown Austin are off the streets. Your donation allows us to implement evidence-based practices that will make homelessness rare, short-term and non-reoccurring. Together we can end homelessness in Austin as we know it.

This article is the third in a 5-part series on homelessness