Homelessness

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.

House the Homeless

In the aftermath of a recent tragedy, the push to create a shelter for homeless women is gaining momentum.

On June 15, Valerie Godoy was murdered and her body left at Duncan Park on Ninth Street in downtown Austin. (Police are still looking for her assailant.) Local advocacy organization House the Homeless says the murder is a wake-up call to Austin.

A life on the streets leaves all homeless susceptible to crime and attacks. But noting the dangers unique to female members of the homeless population, House the Homeless is calling for the creation of a women’s homeless shelter – the Valerie Godoy Women’s Shelter.

KUT News

As the Texas heat rolls in, some local organizations are trying to figure out how to help the elderly and homeless weather extreme temperatures. 

“Water shouldn’t be a luxury,” says Steve Luteran, Executive Director of Front Steps, which provides assistance for the homeless. “Hydration is a fundamental need of the human body. Without it, Austin’s homeless face heat exhaustion, stroke and permanently disabling conditions.”

Front Steps will begin distributing roughly 76,000 bottles of water to the homeless on Wednesday.

And what of the elderly? Family Eldercare has a different method to help them stay cool. They’re planning to deliver around 7,000 fans and 100 air-conditioners to individuals and families in need. 

Filipa Rodrigues / for KUT News

The City of Austin is planning to temporarily close Wooldridge Square Park downtown for landscape renovations. The measure will affect several homeless people who call the park home.

KUT News recently spoke with a few Wooldridge regulars who spend most of their days there.

You can listen to interviews with "Ken," "Bruce" and "Michael" by KUT News  interns Mario Jacinto and Filipa Rodrigues above.

Image courtesy / City of Austin

It’s slow-going at City Hall as the Austin City Council trudges through its agenda.

A lengthy executive session has kept the council off the dais since this afternoon. And some marquee items have been postponed until this evening: The sale and redevelopment of the former Green Water Treatment Plant site downtown (Items 12 and 13) won’t be heard until at least 6:30 p.m.

And Item 22, which would allow Austin Pets Alive to occupy the entire Town Lake Animal Center won’t be heard until at least 6 p.m.  Similarly, a public hearing on new regulations for short-term rentals by homeowners (Item 140) has been postponed to June 7. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Wooldridge Square, a small park between the Travis County Courthouse and Austin's Central Library downtown, will be closed for eight months starting in June.

The city is also reaching out to a few homeless people who live in the park, and referring them to social services. Austin's Department of Health and Human Services is asking local homeless service organizations to post this flyer in their offices.

“I’m not happy about the closure, and I don’t know if it’s really worth the effort,” homeless man Bruce Kline told KUT News. He said he’s lived in the park for about two years and doesn’t want to live in a homeless shelter. “They’re supposed to have people come out and tell us where to go once the park closes, but they haven’t yet.” 

Photo courtesy Craig O'Neal, flickr.com/36703550@N00

Springsteen Delivering Keynote at SXSW Music

Need another sign South by Southwest Music is underway? 

Bruce Springsteen will give his SXSW keynote speech tomorrow at the Austin Convention Center, noon.  KUT will stream the talk live, and later than night, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will perform in Austin via a special ticket drawing.

You can follow KUT’s continuing SXSW coverage on this blog and at kut.org.

Photo courtesy Valerie Romness

Leslie Cochran – a homeless, cross-dressing exemplar of Austin weirdness immortalized in countless stories and photos, plus advertisements, refrigerator magnets, and runs for public office – has “chosen to shuffle off this mortal coil,” according to friends overseeing Cochran’s stay in hospice care.

As KUT News previously reported, Cochran was in intensive care after being found unconscious in a South Austin parking lot approximately two-and-a-half weeks ago. He was transferred to an unnamed hospice facility this weekend, KUT noted yesterday.

Local activist Debbie Russell has served as a family spokesperson. In an update this morning, she writes:

He has chosen to shuffle off this mortal coil, and is doing so in grace and dignity, Leslie-style...as he's done all else in life …

He is comfortable in hospice care (where he is in amazing hands), and is in no pain according to the nurses who monitor him often. He has slipped back into semi-consciousness -for the most part- but we believe he hears his loved ones surrounding him.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/chainsawpanda

Contrary to recent reports that transgendered homeless icon Leslie Cochran was moving to Colorado, Leslie is still in Austin. And according to a statement from friends and family, Cochran is currently recuperating in an area hospital.

Local activist Debbie Russell says she is a spokesperson for Cochran and a relative. Russell sent out a release this morning:

Photo by KUT News

Last year, 2,362 homeless people were counted in the combined Austin–Round Rock area. This Sunday, the 2012 count of Austin’s homeless begins, and count organizers still need volunteers.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) needs people to travel parts of Austin and report the number of homeless, and volunteers to help enter the data they collected.

ECHO describes the work in more detail:

Teams of volunteers will canvas Travis County to count homeless men, women and children in the area to get an accurate sum of the homeless population to help secure federal funding, which provides resources for the county’s homeless service providers. The results of the count will include demographics, reasons for homelessness and trends in homelessness to compare with previous data to assess and improve community performance in preventing and ending homelessness.

Photo by Ian Crawford/KUT News

Happy New Year! A warm start to 2012 brought crowds to Auditorium Shores for ring out the old year, it brought some warm news to Ron Paul's presidential aspirations just ahead of Iowa GOP caucuses and 2012 could bring some warmth to people living on Austin's streets.

Austin Welcomes 2012

Photo courtesy of House the Homeless.

Austin’s House the Homeless is hoping to keep the homeless warm with its annual Thermal Underwear Drive. On Monday, the non-profit will hand out free thermal underwear to the homeless. Thermals are easier than blankets for homeless people to carry with them.

Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, estimates there are about 4,000 homeless people in the Austin metropolitan area.

Photo by Erik Reyna, KUT News

A homeless man who lived on the Drag was found dead on the street the same day a Veterans Affairs caseworker went to notify him he was going to get housing, the Austin American-Statesman reports today

72-year-old Kevin Hawk, pictured above, had been homeless for 40 years and was a regular fixture in the area. His art was on display at Tom's Tabooley, according to Andrea Ball’s report in the Statesman.

Hawk had been identified in a study conducted last month to identify who among Austin’s homeless population is most at risk of dying. The 100 Homes Campaign interviewed almost 300 homeless people.

Photo by dground http://www.flickr.com/photos/dground/

An emergency program to provide homeless people with a warm place to sleep was activated this week as temperatures plummeted below freezing and shelters approached maximum capacity.

When the weather dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit – or 35 degrees with extenuating circumstances (extreme wind or rain, for example) – the cold weather shelter system is activated. It was put into effect the last two nights, and will be activated again tonight, with temperatures forecast to drop to 30 degrees.

It all starts with a lottery at 5:15 p.m. today outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), a mens-only shelter at the corner of East Seventh and Neches Streets downtown. Numbers are drawn from a bucket to allocate sleeping spaces inside a local church. The men are transported to the church by Capital Metro bus.

Pages