Yesterday’s homeless news… not so true

If you didn’t get my skeptcism in yesterday’s post, you might have overlooked this clue: It started with the phrase, “According to the Bush administration.” The  New York Times had reported that chronic homelessness in the United States had gone down 30% between 2005 and 2007.

Thirty percent is a lot. And it’s really a lot in just a two-year span. I thought it best to ask Alan Graham of Austin’s Mobile Loaves and Fishes what he thought of this news. Here’s what he told me in an e-mail:

Absolute unmitigated horse hooey!  If it appears to be too good to be true then that is usually the case. Manipulation of the numbers at best…dishonesty at worst. This is not true anywhere and especially not here in Austin.

Later, when I asked him whether Austin has made much progress in eliminating chronic homelessness, which is part of an official 10-year plan, here’s what he said:

In terms of the chronic homeless population not much.  Our Habitat on Wheels development is really the only significant development designed to tackle this issue of chronic homelessness.  We can say this or we say that but the only real long-term solution is to create PERMANENT housing for this particular population on the housing first model.  I am not aware that any have been created.

Remember MLF’s effort to build those homes and that community for the chronic homeless? Last I heard, the nearby neighborhood had pitched a little fit about it, and the city was re-examining locations and strategies.

Last I heard about homelessness, though, it really wasn’t going away. See today’s blog post from MLF:

What a crazy morning it was. There were at least 50 people in need this morning.  I helped at least 7 new people in my line this morning. All my hot water for Cocoa was gone, of course no more coffee. All cans of soup were taken and no more sandwiches. I had no extra shirts and only a few pants and shorts left over. I am humbled by the need on the streets as weekly the homeless come to me with their needs.

How we wish the news had been true.

Aug 1: Celebrate Catalyst 8

I love it when organizations break out of how things are supposed to be done and just do it however they want. It can be a hard sell at the board meeting when this kind of thing comes up. You sit there with a group of people, brainstorming ideas for an event, when all of a sudden someone pipes up and says, “Hey, and we can charge, like, $88 and $108, and $288 for tickets. Get it? Eight? Like Catalyst 8?”

Dead silence.

But someone on the Catalyst 8 event planning commitee must have done a great job selling this one. Good for them!

Join Catalyst 8 as they celebrate their 3rd Anniversary at the …
Catalyst 8 BASH 08
Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Individual tickets for Catalyst 8 members are $88.00, $108.00 for nonmembers and $288.00 for Host Committee Members which includes 2 tickets and the VIP reception.
Live dance music by Sauce!

Get more information and buy tickets on the Long Center’s website.

Is the Austin chronic-homeless count down?

According to the Bush administration, the number of chronically homeless people has dropped 30 percent from 2005 to 2007. Remember that a chronically homeless person is a little different; they are defined as a homeless person with a disabling condition who has been homeless for a year or more or has had frequent episodes of homelessness. It’s estimated that 10 to 15% of homeless people are chronically homeless.

I found this: According to the Austin/Travis County Ending Community Homelessness (ECHO) Coalition, there were 4,468 homeless people in Travis County in 2007. What was that number for 2005?

I also found this: Austin has a 10-year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, which was created in 1999 in concurrence with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s big push to end chronic homelessness.

So how’s Austin doing? Not sure yet, but I hope to find out.

In the meantime, I found it very worthwhile to puruse the plan, which comes in a handy, downloadable PDF. It’s simple to read and there’s lots of fascinating data to mull over. Plus, more importantly, it offers some actionable information you can use to participate in the effort to end chronic homelessness.

ILHIGH campaign starts asking questions

That’s the “in the know” acronym for the I Live Here, I Give Here campaign.

Looks like the RGK Center has begun conducting surveys and compiling data on how effective the campaign is so far. I received an email today from Dr. Sarah Jane Rehnborg “and The RGK Center Research Team” with a Survey Monkey link, so I took a few minutes to answer the questions.

Mostly it looks like they want to see if my attending these events “inspired” me to change/increase my charitable giving. They also asked me a question that I thought was interesting: They wanted to know if I was “uncomfortable” with some of the information I heard.

I attended the first “See Jane Give” event, and I don’t remember being too terribly uncomfortable with any information. But I understand the question. These are our personal finances we’re talking about, placed in the context of our personal beliefs as to whom deserves our money. I mean, that’s heavy stuff, and most of us don’t talk about stuff like this with people we just met.

Still, it felt kind of good to get it out in the open. But I wonder how much of that discomfort gets in the way of charitable giving? It’s one thing to tell people that you give, it’s another to tell people how much you give, and you’re either bragging or embarrassed when you talk about it – and either way you feel like a jerk.

I can’t wait to find out the results. In the meantime, we’ve been conducting our own survey on how much people know about the campaign. It’s totally unscientific, but we were surprised by the results. We’ll publish them in our first issue, which I swear to you will be here soon. I know, I know.

Austin drops down volunteering rankings

The Corporation for National and Community Service (the Americorps people) released new 2007 rankings on the rate of volunteerism in big cities across the country, and Austin dropped from the number-three spot to number five.

From what I understand, the U.S. Census conducts monthly surveys to keep its data fresh, and in September 2006, the survey asked questions about volunteering for the first time. So last year’s ranking of Austin at #3 came from a September 2006 Census survey. This year’s comes from the September 2007 survey.

So in 2006, these folks reported Austin having a 38.1% volunteer rate in 2006, with Minneapolis at number one with 40.5% and Salt Lake City just ahead of us with 38.4%.  

In 2007, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City topped the list again, but this time Portland and Seattle squeezed ahead of us in the ranks by just a fraction of a point.

What’s also interesting/deflating is that the volunteerism rate fell for everyone on the list. Overall, the nation dropped from 28.1% in 2006 to 26.2% in 2007. And Minneapolis topped out with 39.3% and Austin dropped to 35.3%.

Okay, so the difference between 2006 and 2007 numbers is slim. We fell a measly 2.6% points, so what? Well, the report also found that…

  • However, volunteer retention remains a significant issue. More than one out of every three volunteers (21.7 million) who served in 2006 did not volunteer in 2007.
  • In a typical week, recent volunteers spend approximately 15 hours watching television compared to 21 hours for former volunteers and 23 hours for non-volunteers (the difference of about one hour-long show per day).
  • The volunteer rate is highest among students who work between one and 10 hours a week (46.4%), while students who are not employed volunteer at a considerably lower rate (29.8%).

So the tasks are to make better volunteer experiences, get people to turn off their TVs (No, watching Oprah’s “Big Give” doesn’t count as philanthropy), and asking an overworked college student to pitch in.

Download the entire report for more interesting facts and figures about Austin and U.S. volunteering.

Saturday 7/26: Free Ballet Folklorico Lessons!

My mother would die.

My mother used to do this kind of dancing when she was younger. We have lots of photos of her in these beautiful dresses, swinging the flaired skirt around and whipping her castanets in the air. When my two sisters and I were about 10, she tried to teach us how to use the castanets. Ha. It was pathetic. We were jocks not dancers. I’m sure it broke her heart. 

I’d all about given up until Southwest Key sent me this notice:

Free Ballet Folklorico Workshop in East Austin

Southwest Key is hosting a free ballet folklorico workshop for all ages this Saturday from 10:00 am – 11:00 am.  This should be a fun activity for the whole family!

WHAT:  FREE Ballet Folklorico Workshop for youth and adults

WHEN:  this Saturday, July 26 from 10 am – 11 am

WHO:  The workshop is open to anyone—youth, adults, professionals, community residents, English & Spanish speakers all welcome!  Rodolfo Mendez, Artistic Director of the Ballet East Dance Company, will provide an overview and history of the art form and demonstrate some basic exercises.

WHY:  This workshop is part of Southwest Key’s Cultural Arts Program focusing on the Hispanic arts of bilingual theater, mariachi, and ballet folklorico, which is sponsored by a generous grant from Impact Austin.

WHERE: Southwest Key East Austin Community Center, 6002 Jain Lane, Austin, 78721; 512-462-2181


Just stop by!  No RSVP is necessary, but feel free to contact Layla Fry at 512-669-8999 with questions.

BUT WAIT! There’s more. Free Mariachi Lessons. NEXT WEEKEND!!!

Shop Macy’s and Give! (them more money)

An ad in the Statesman on Sunday:

Yucky Macy's shop for a cause ad

Yucky Macy's shop for a cause ad

Kinda made me feel yucky. Why? It says they did this last year and raised almost $10 million for charity. That’s good, right?

Macy’s has an ad in the paper every day. Wait. That’s an understatement. Macy’s co-owns the Statesman with Dillard’s. They runs ads listing their shopping “events” and huge closeouts and best prices of the season, sometimes all at the same time. I’m kind of a shopper. It can’t be all that good.

So usually I look at their ads and just roll my eyes. But I read this one, of course, and it made me wonder: Am I meant to mark my calendar? That’s way after back-to-school season, by the way. Are they trying to sucker me back in while my bank card is still warm?

Yeah, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to support a nonprofit by going shopping at Macy’s on September 20. I’ll spend $49.50 on a bunch of Clinique stuff I don’t need just to get the gift-with-purchase, and some of that money will also go to a bunch of nonprofits, some of which I recognize.


Or I give $50 to Latinitas or Hospice Austin or Manos de Cristo, and I won’t have to deal with makeup or any other Macy’s junk I don’t want.

Look, it’s not even like I’m supporting a local shop. This is Macy’s, after all. They own a parade. If they’re so big-hearted, why don’t they just donate the money themselves instead of making a shopping event out of it. Oh, so I can feel good about buying Liz Claiborne? No thanks.