MARCH 17: What people don’t talk about when they talk about homelessness

A symposium about homelessness by homelessness experts? We’ve seen it, right?

Not like this one. On Wednesday, March 17, about 20 social services agencies will host  a National Symposium on Homelessness at St. Edward’s University. And the speakers and experts include homeless people themselves.

The topic: “What is home?”

Alan Graham, founder and president of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, one of the host agencies for the symposium, believes that the answers to homelessness in Austin and around the world are holistic and require hard work, but are indeed plausible.

“The services we and other agencies in Austin provide, while being well intentioned, are simply band-aids on a gaping and gushing wound — one meal for a person who doesn’t have a regular source of nutrition, one counseling service with no continuation of care, or one night of shelter in a crowded facility. In order to really get people off the streets for good, our community must grasp a transformational, paradigm-shift.

A concept called “Housing First,” which is endorsed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, has been adopted by hundreds of communities across the country and follows four principles.

1. First, homelessness is first and foremost a housing problem.

2. Second, housing is a right to which we are all entitled.

3. Third, people who are homeless should be given housing as quickly as possible and then connected to resources.

4. And lastly, issues that may have contributed to a person’s homelessness can be addressed once they are housed safely.

“My hope is that this conference will provide a moment of clarity for everyone in the room to recognize that each of our neighbors deserves a home and that community is about everyone, including the low income and disabled,” says Sharon Lowe, executive director of Foundation for the Homeless, another event sponsor.


Also featured at the symposium will be the authors of the groundbreaking book, “Beyond Homelessness,” which explores the roots of homelessness. According to authors Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh, homelessness remains an intractable problem because we are a society that thrives on relocation and displacement, and as such, have lost our sense of place and permanence. This holds true for those living on the street or those holding positions of wealth and power.

The first step to ending homelessness is conceptual —  eight characteristics that have nothing to do with structure, design or cost. Instead, home is a place of safety, hospitality, community and redemption through faith.


In addition to theory, an accurate profile of Austin’s homeless population will be presented at the symposium. Between August and October of 2009, surveyors canvassed soup kitchens, shelters, camps and other locations frequented by the homeless, to ask their opinions, needs and concerns. Not surprisingly, surveys found that the vast majority of homeless are middle-age men who are unemployed and not receiving financial assistance of any kind from family or government.

A handful of the findings include:

  • The vast majority of homeless have been unemployed for less than two years, suggesting that not all homeless people are chronically unemployed;
  • A slight majority of respondents has no criminal record; the rest have criminal records mostly related to drugs and theft; and, the vast majority of those with records are not on parole suggesting that crimes were committed many years ago;
  • The majority completed high school or received GEDs and are functionally literate, but an insignificant number have post-graduate work demonstrating a correlation between lack of education and homelessness;
  • Most cited lack of permanent employment as the greatest obstacle to finding housing; and
  • Every person interviewed was receiving food, housing and/or clothing assistance from local agencies.

One characteristic almost every respondent shared was their desire to get off the streets, develop new skills, find employment, and live in permanent housing. A full summary of findings will be unveiled at the symposium.


Admission is $30, which includes entrance to the full day event, lunch and a copy of “Beyond Homelessness.” A discounted group rate is also offered. The event will run from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on the second floor of Ragsdale Center on the St. Edward’s campus. For sponsorship opportunities and tickets, call 512.328.7299 (Mobile Loaves & Fishes) or visit,

Watch for the new 12 Baskets Magazine: October Custom Publishing (which publishes GivingCity Austin) will publish 12 Baskets, a new magazine for Mobile Loaves & Fishes on April 27. The magazine will be digital, shareable and much like GivingCity – and we sure hope you check it out. To get it, just sign up to receive MLF emails now. Thanks!


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