Guest Post from 2015 Emerge Graduate Danielle Urban.
Danielle is a Senior Account Executive at Pierpont Communications.
This video on Homelessness, Poverty and Basic Needs was prepared by a team who examined aspects of this issue in our community. Please take a minute to watch.
What does “home” mean to you? Alan Graham, founder and president of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, defines “home” as more than a dwelling place – it’s a place of belonging, affiliation, hospitality, permanence, safety and refuge.
But for more than two thousand Austinites, “home” is defined as a stairwell or a shelter. It’s their friend’s couch. It’s the place they left to escape an abusive relationship. It’s something they’re not sure they will ever have again.
Homelessness is perhaps one of our city’s most chronic yet most misunderstood challenges. According to a March 2016 report by ECHO, more than 7,000 Austinites experienced homelessness in 2015. Today, nearly 2,200 Austinites are homeless on any given day – a 20 percent increase from 2015.
This growing issue extends not only to Austin men and women, but to our children. The Austin Independent School District estimates that more than 3,000 of its students are homeless.
To effectively treat homelessness at its roots, we need to look at all of its contributing factors – shortages in affordable housing and mental health care services, untreated substance abuse issues, overwhelmed shelters and “neighborhood restoration” developments that push low-income residents out of their communities. Graham defines the single greatest cause to homelessness as a “profound, catastrophic loss of family”.
In the last year, Austin has launched several creative programs and community partnerships to find permanent, lasting shelter for Austin’s homeless, such as Mayor Adler’s “Housing Our Heroes” initiative, which has secured a “functional zero” rate of veteran homelessness in Austin, and Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ fantastic Community First! Village.
But the biggest difference-makers for Austin’s homeless is not a programs – it’s you and me. But what can we do? The answer goes beyond giving money at a street corner or donating food, time or clothing, although there are plenty of local opportunities for that. No matter how little time or money we have, we can all provide Austin’s homeless with one of the most overlooked human needs: dignity.
As I’ve learned through the work of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, sharing dignity costs nothing to the giver but means everything to the recipient. It’s looking someone in the eye. It’s sharing a kind smile or a cup of coffee. It’s taking the time to listen to someone’s story. For Austin’s homeless who are used to being dismissed, ignored or treated like a problem to be solved, imparting dignity can be soul saving.
This video, and Leadership Austin’s Emerge program as a whole, has brought profound change to my life. Thanks to Leadership Austin, I’ve learned to look with new eyes at the people I meet every day and am now reevaluating how I can better lead in my community and serve the under-served. If you’re ready to define your role as leader and learn how you can help make Austin a better place to live, work and serve, then I invite you to apply for Leadership Austin’s 2016 Emerge Program.
NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.