Homelessness

Joy Diaz/KUT

This week, Mayor Steve Adler announced a push to house all of Austin's homeless veterans by Veterans Day. The initiative, called House our Heroes, will focus on assisting the 200 servicemen and women who now live in Austin's streets.

Austin's total homeless population, however, is much larger than 200, and some advocates hope Adler's initiative is the beginning of a movement that could end all homelessness in Austin.

John Shapley/KUT

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has announced a plan for ending homelessness among military veterans in Austin by Veterans Day this year.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Austin is a running- and jogging-friendly city. It also has a homeless population of about 2,000. An Austin non-profit group is combining the two to help people break the cycle of chronic homelessness.

Back on My Feet is a program that uses running as a starting point to help people who are homeless change the way they see themselves, as well as find jobs and housing. The program started in Philadelphia in 2007, and its Austin chapter began in 2013.

Courtesy of Valerie Romness

Long-time Austinites might remember Homer the Homeless Goose, who rose to local and even national fame in the late 1980s as a champion for the rights of the homeless community. Homer served as the mascot for Austin’s unhoused population. He passed away last month at the age of 27 (a pretty long life for a goose – over 100 in goose years, according to Austin Zoo officials).

“Austin’s homeless mascot for 27 years took a forever flight…Folks that hear about him for the first time will wish that they could have met Ole Homer,” Fred Pettit wrote in The Challenger, a newspaper written and distributed by Austin's homeless.

A memorial will be held for Homer this weekend.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The homeless population in Austin is getting smaller.

At least that's what the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) found in its annual count of people who are homeless last month. But the population is still in the hundreds.

One of the reasons the non-profit is citing for the decline is a small but steady increase in affordable housing in Austin.

flickr.com/wstryder

One challenge many homeless people face is fighting addiction. And that battle could get tougher for some, as an Austin nonprofit that helps people recover from addiction has closed its detox facility – meaning new hurdles for the homeless and uninsured who need detox services.

This month, nonprofit Austin Recovery closed its detox facility. The detox process isn't pretty – in fact, it can be rather dangerous. Patients needed to be monitored around-the-clock by highly trained medical staff, just as if they were in a hospital setting.

Chronic homelessness can seem unsolvable. People bounce around from the street to jail to hospitals and back to the street. On Thursday, ground was broken on an $8 million effort to stop that cycle in southern Dallas. It's called the Cottages at Hickory Crossing.


Joy Diaz, KUT News

When you think about the word “homeless,” what comes to mind?

Homelessness can include a person who lacks housing. But it is also includes people in transitional housing. That's where Lydia Huerta, her husband and their three kids found themselves after they lost their home to flooding October 31.

Huerta says she "never really felt panic" until she lost her home. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News.

This year’s count of people who are homeless shows a decline in numbers for the Austin area. It’s the fourth consecutive year of decline. So, what’s behind the shrinking numbers of people who live on the streets?

Ann Howard leads an organization called ECHO -- the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. She hopes the day will come when there are no more people who are homeless and then she’ll move to a different line of work. And, if her predictions are right, that day may come soon for Austin.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: KUT's was on hand to document the homeless count this weekend. Take a look in the photo gallery above. You can see more photos on the KUT Austin Flickr page.

Original story: (Jan. 25) It’s the annual Point in Time Count of the Homeless here in the Austin area. Hundreds of volunteers were out Friday and again before dawn Saturday, finding out how many people are living here without permanent shelter.

Ann Howard is the Executive Director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, known as ECHO. She says the counts are going on across the country in the last week of January, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s just coincidence that this year’s falls on a night in Austin when temperatures are below freezing and extra shelters are open.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT

While the visible face of homelessness tends to be a single person by the side of the road in the downtown area, homelessness is so much more – it can be your cousin, your neighbor, your childhood friend, families with little children.

KUT’s Jorge Sanheuza-Lyon put together this video on the hidden face of homelessness in Austin:

Austinites gathered at the Homeless Memorial and Tree of Remembrance at Auditorium Shores on Sunday to pay tribute to people in the city's homeless community who have died over the past year.

Organizers of the 21st annual House the Homeless Sunrise Memorial Service read the names of 146 people. They placed a small star for each name on the Tree of Remembrance next to the memorial.

KUT's Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon was at the service and put together this video:

Joy Diaz, KUT News

Plans are moving ahead in the Austin area to house about 200 people who are chronically homeless.  Community First Village has been about a decade in the making and in just a matter of months, it will break ground.

The property is 27 acres, with little cottages, mobile homes and even some teepees dotting the landscape. A three-acre community garden is also on-site. 

Matthew Alvarez for KUT News

After a year-long closure, the chain-linked fence surrounding Wooldridge Park is down and the space is open to the public again.

The $306,800 renovation covered park improvements including drought-tolerant turf grass, a new irrigation system and electrical upgrades including high-efficiency LED light fixtures.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

As you got ready this morning, how much did you think about which socks to wear? Socks are one of those items most people don’t dwell on. But an Austin Air Force veteran learned the importance of a pair of good, clean socks the hard way -- which led him to start his own socially conscious sock company.

Tim Scott named his company MitScoots, a tough name to pronounce, which comes from Scott’s childhood. As a 5-year-old with dyslexia, he was learning to write his name. Tim became Mit. And Scott became Scoot.

Emily Ng

Hunger in Austin is the focus of a series of videos produced by students at the University of Texas, the project of an organization called the Creative Activist Network.

The network pairs activists with creative college students to produce content that communicates their social concerns. Some of these films will be screened tomorrow night along with the documentary A Place at the Table, which examines hunger in the United States.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

Can homeless people pedal their way into a home? An Austin nonprofit certainly hopes so. 

It also hopes to capitalize on the large crowds drawn to town for South by Southwest. So, during the festival, the nonprofit Mobile Loaves and Fishes equipped a group of homeless people with foot-powered snack-vending carts and uniforms. The new business is called Street Treats, and the vendors get to keep the profits.

Data provided by ECHO

The annual Austin/Travis County homeless count shows the number of homeless people living the area is down by 5.5 percent from last year to 2,121.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition or “ECHO” conducted the count late last month.

The count determines the level of federal funding the area will receive and helps community organizations determine which services need to be improved.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Back on My Feet, a national non-profit that helps homeless people through running, is launching an Austin chapter today. 

“Our members don't want to be homeless, they just don't know how not to be homeless,” founder and president Anne Mahlum says. The idea is to build the health and self-esteem of homeless individuals through running, before putting them in touch with employment opportunities.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Across the United States, groups are attempting to get a firm count of the number of homeless people living in their midst. In Travis County this past weekend, the count was led by a group called Ending Community Homelessness or ECHO.

For the first time in the history of the count, volunteers reached the Travis County limits in order to get more accurate numbers.

Laura Rice, KUT News

It hasn’t been too cold in Austin so far this season. But kids whose families can’t afford to buy them a good winter coat have already felt the chill of fall.

Coats for Kids is collecting new and gently used coats to pass out to those children in need. Donations can be dropped off at any Jack Brown Cleaners in the Austin area. The dry cleaning company will make sure the coats are in tip top shape so the kids who receive them aren’t just kept warm but are also proud of their new coat.

Good morning. After a chilly start, Austin should warm to highs in the mid-60s, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on.

"Violent crime in Austin’s downtown area has risen by nearly 17 percent, according to the latest FBI statistics, although Austin police say the city remains one of the safest in the nation.  Police have ramped up their downtown presence. And that’s raising its own set of concerns among advocates for the city’s homeless."

"Texas Governor Rick Perry has given his support to a bill that would have recipients of unemployment benefits submit to drug tests. Those failing a test would be denied benefits for 12 months, or until they completed a drug treatment program."

Flickr user Still_life88_second, bit.ly/TvWSHM

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) kicked off its annual Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week this past weekend. ECHO will host daily community events through Nov. 18 to educate Austin residents on the causes of homelessness and hunger. ECHO hopes community education spurs community action to help end local homelessness.

To that end, several events are being hosted by ECHO and other community groups this week. Here's a rundown: 

  • Oxfam Hunger Banquet, Tuesday, Nov. 3: Meals are served based on the luck of the draw.  While some attendees will be served filling meals,others will have relatively bare plates. The banquet is aimed at raising awareness of inequalities in food distribution in the world.

KUT News

What do you say to your kid when you’re stopped at a traffic light on the I-35 frontage road and they ask why that person is holding a sign asking for money? It’s a question that Amber Fogarty gets a lot. She’s been a homeless advocate in Austin for the last eight years.

“I tell them to be honest,” Fogarty says. “I also tell them that if they don’t know how to be honest, to try to find the answers.”

Fogarty is helping to organize an event this Saturday she hopes will provide some of those answers. The ECHO Family Festival will give children a chance to put together hygiene kits that will be distributed by Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

KUT News

Some people who live and work in downtown Austin spoke out at yesterday's Public Safety Commission meeting in support of the Austin Police Department’s so called “Public Order Initiative."

While Police Chief Art Acevedo says the zero-tolerance policy that went into effect in September is not an anti-homeless initiative… it does crack down on crime often associated with the homeless—including violations of the city’s ‘sit and lie’ ordinance.

Some have speculated that APD’s crackdown is happening because of the influx of visitors expected for Formula 1. But the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) says it’s a long-term problem.

Good Morning, Austin. The National Weather Service says this Election Day should be a beautiful one with highs in the upper 70s and lows in the 50s tonight.

KUT will continue extended Election Day coverage today and tomorrow but, don't worry, John Aielli and Jay Trachtenberg will be back on the air as usual starting Thursday.

Here are some of the stories KUT News has been working on:

Election officials recommend that you vote early today. Get it done before you head into work if you can. If you can’t make it before getting to work; you can still go. By law, you’re entitled to paid time off for voting on Election Day, unless you’re off work for two consecutive hours during the times the polls are open. And remember you don’t have to drive all the way back home to vote in your local precinct this year.

Texans vote today on state representatives, some state senators, and Board of Education members. But do elected officials have the most power in Texas politics? Not always. Jennifer Stayton talks with Dave Mann of The Texas Observer about the seven biggest donors in Texas politics and what they’re getting for their money.

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 KUT.org 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.

Eurocopter

Austin Police Want New Helicopter, More Staff

The council is set to discuss purchasing a new helicopter for the Austin Police Department today.

The department says its current fleet is old and in need of maintenance and that a new helicopter would enable officers to more quickly respond to some emergencies.

APD also wants council to approve a bigger budget for the department so it can hire more staff.

Austin Police Department

Update: At a press conference this morning, Austin Police Department Homicide Sergeant Brian Miller said Greer’s family told officials Greer was new to Austin from the Houston area. He said police are still unsure as to when Greer came to Austin or what brought him here.

Miller said the department does not have any evidence linking Greer’s death to the homeless woman murdered last month, but is not ruling out possible links between the cases.

Original post (11:35 a.m.): Austin police are looking for help in solving the murder of a homeless man along the shores of Lady Bird Lake.

William Roy Greer, 49, was found yesterday morning in the 200 block of West Cesar Chavez. APD writes:

Greer was pronounced deceased on scene. The investigation has shown that Greer was assaulted and killed along the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail near West Cesar Chavez Street and Colorado Street. His body was found at 8:09 am on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Mr. Greer was homeless and had recently arrived in Austin.

View Suspicious Death in a larger map

One eastbound lane of W. Cesar Chavez Street  is shut down and part of the Hike and Bike Trail is closed as Austin Police investigate a suspicious death.

APD says a bicyclist called police just after 8 a.m. when he found a man lying near the trail. The man was dead in a sleeping bag with obvious trauma. Officers say he appears to have been homeless.

Senior Police Officer Veneza Bremner says it’s unclear how long the man was there but says the location is noteworthy because it’s very public area.

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