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Pop-Up Village Provides Food, Haircuts and Other Services to Austin's Homeless During SXSW

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News
Katrina Haworth of Adamo Nail Bar gives a free manicure to an attendee of the Pop-Up Care Village in downtown Austin on Saturday. A San Francisco nonprofit collaborated with the local tech company Encast to bring the pop-up to South by Southwest.

The empty lot at the corner of Red River and Seventh streets turned into a village of services for people experiencing homelessness Saturday. Around 350 people living on the streets were able to get everything from a shower to yoga lessons at the Pop-Up Care Village. 

The event offered services like showers, food and haircuts, along with more unique opportunities like getting manicures and makeovers, and doing arts and crafts.

Daniel, who didn't feel comfortable giving his last name, is currently homeless. He has been in Austin for a few months after a stop on the way from Fort Worth to Miami. He left the event with a bag full of personal hygiene items, a shirt, swimming trunks, a hat and socks.

“To me, it’s great," he said. "It helps people who have no [money] or have no income. And that is something of greatness and power and heart and soul and the spirit of Austin.” 

The Pop-Up Care Village is a collaboration between the local tech company Encast and a San Francisco nonprofit calledLava Mae. The nonprofit is trying to change the way people interact and provide care to those experiencing homelessness.

“What we’ve seen is there is a very strong stereotype around who homeless people are. There’s been research showing that even as we pass them on the street, we don’t even register them as human beings," said Doniece Sandoval, CEO of Lava Mae. “That’s the first obstacle is to recognize that homeless individuals — it’s not a label; it’s a set of circumstances."

Daetron White, 23,  was homeless in Austin until the fall. He says it was difficult to access services when living on the streets.

“It’s hard to find showers, hard to get food," he said. But transportation — getting back and forth to places — was the hardest thing for him. 

Many of these services are located at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or ARCH. The building is a few blocks away from the pop-up village. But White and others say they avoid the ARCH because of the rampant drug use among people outside.

Leo Ramirez Jr. is the CEO and founder of Encast, a local start-up that works to make it easier for companies to donate to charities. He says SXSW is the perfect place to get companies from around the world to think about giving back.

“In a place like South By where everything is about me, me, me, me, me, we wanted to create something that was truly different and show that we can be generous, and we can come together to support a marginalized group of individuals in our community," he said.

Austin City Council voted in January to make downtown homelessness a priority of 2017.