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No Simple Solution for Austin Homeless (Updated)

Joy Diaz, KUT News

Update: Oct. 25, 2012 at 9 a.m.:

After airing this story on Monday, listeners have been wondering what happened to the Yount family.  The first thing was that a listener drove by the parking lot where they were and gave them a cell phone.  Others have called asking for ways in which they can help.  KUT now has a way to get in touch with the Younts.  If you have any interest in helping them, you can contact KUT.

Original Story posted on Oct. 23, 2012 at 5:30 a.m.:

The city of Miami claims to have taken almost half of its homeless population off the streets in the last 10 years. In Austin, where homeless services are stretched to the limit, the City Council is looking for new solutions. Last night, council members met with officials from Miami. The challenges of one local homeless family that is struggling on the streets show how complex the problem can be.

A silver truck sits in the parking lot of Sears off I-35. The Yount family lives in it. Gerry Yount says he recently heard Austin has many resources for homeless people. So as a last desperate move, he left Temple and brought his sick wife and 12-year-old son to Austin in search of medical help.

“We’ve tried help through the different agencies, and some places that do offer help, they want to separate the family,” Gerry said. “And we are having such a hard time, being separated would be more devastating. We don’t know what to do.”

Gerry’s wife, Melanie, has had two brain surgeries in two years. Gerry is a plumber. For a while they stayed afloat, even without Melanie’s veterinary tech job. But the company Gerry worked for went under last year, and they got trapped in a fast downward spiral.

All they have left is their truck. They sold their wedding rings last week to try to get Melanie’s medication and food for their son, Trey.

“I don’t worry about myself,” Trey said. “We got food; it’s just, hygiene — I’ve been wiping myself off with the wet wipes, and every once in a while I go to the lake and swim around.”

One of Trey’s three chihuahuas gave birth six weeks ago. The puppies are his main entertainment at the moment. The family sold his PlayStation a few weeks ago.

The Younts face challenges, like ill health, medical expenses and unemployment, that are not easily solved. Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole says that in Miami, homeless advocates are able to better address the complicated individual issues that surround homelessness.

“They actually find homeless individuals, they actually have appointments where they bring people in to receive services such as work force and dental help, and drivers license, to try to move people to self-sufficiency,” Cole said.

It’s not clear that the Miami model, which relies on lots of federal money and state tax revenue, will work here, where public funding is scarce and waiting lists for services are long.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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