On why we do this

Before GivingCity came to the Austin Community Foundation, we produced a lot of content for a lot of other people. One of our favorite things to work on was and is 12 Baskets Magazine for Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We still do 12 Baskets now.

Here’s how we got that gig: I was standing in the lobby of Alamo Drafthouse, waiting to watch the first showing of Andrew Shapter’s film, “Happiness Is.” Alan Graham was also there to see the film, and we were chatting a bit about what it is I do, exactly. I gave him the overview (“You know, I just like working on magazines.”), and then he asked me if I could make him a digital magazine that was provocative and awesome.

Who’s going to turn that down?

So we made a 12 Baskets magazine. And then another. And they’ve had more than 11,000 views so far, which is not bad for what is basically a spiffed up-nonprofit newsletter. These two issues have included amazing stories, but they’ve spurred some amazing stories, too. Here’s one:

Two weeks ago we received an email from a woman asking us if we could tell her anything about Joseph Coleman.

We’d photographed him for a recurring story, “Everything I Own,” (above) in which we ask a homeless person to display the contents of his or her bag. Other magazines use this concept to offer insight into a person’s interests and personality. We use it to offer insight in to a homeless person’s hope and/or desperation.

Turns out the woman who emailed us is Coleman’s niece. And she’s been looking for him.

There wasn’t much I could tell her except that we found him around Woolridge Park. Coleman’s story was particularly sad: He owned two blankets wrapped in a scarf and a prayer card. That’s all.

She told us she’d go look for him, see if she could help him. Her family had taken care of him in the past, but hadn’t seem him in about 10 years. Coleman has addiction problems that keep him from staying in one place for too long. She sent me this photos of Coleman as a boy. I hope she finds him.


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We’re on The Huffington Post!

A story about Rain appeared in the latest issue of 12 Baskets magazine. Photo by Austin photographer Jessica Attie

So grateful to Andrew Shapter for making us the subject of his latest blog post for The Huffington Post. See it here: “Need Inspiration to Give? Read Stories, Not Statistics.”

In that post, he writes about how stories rather than statistics inspire people to give. And he uses the two magazines I produce – GivingCity Austin and 12 Baskets for Mobile Loaves & Fishes – as an example of that.

Our goal has always been to highlight and help grow a culture of philanthropy in Austin. With 12 Baskets, we get to share the stories of area homeless people and the good folks who are trying to help them. With GivingCity we call out the good works people are doing in Austin and offer ways for you to get involved, too.

Please share these magazines via email, social media, word of mouth with whomever you think might need a little inspiration to give right now.

Thank you for your continued support!

Advice for ending homelessness

!2 Baskets Magazine The latest issue of 12 Baskets Magazine has some heartbreaking stories, I think. You’ve got to read the one about Rain. (That’s her, left.) She’s a homeless girl who lives on the streets of Austin with her friends. She shouldn’t have to sleep on the street. She didn’t do anything wrong.

She did, however, get a ticket for violating Austin’s Sleep-Lie Ordinance, which prohibits anyone from, well, sitting or lying on a downtown street. (Austin is one of the few cities in the country that has such an ordinance.) She couldn’t possibly pay the ticket, but she still carries it in her backpack, along with tampons, a change of clothes, a blanket and a spiral with some of her drawings. These are all of her possessions. Everything she owns.

We could help her, and in fact, LifeWorks does. Probably a number of other basic needs and emergency needs nonprofits, too. If you support these nonprofits, you’re doing a good thing. But maybe there’s something else you could do…? Something that might prevent more girls like Rain from sleeping on the streets…?

Here are some things you could do:

  1. Be a good neighbor.
  2. Make up with your sister after that fight.
  3. Take the morning off of work to visit your friend’s kid in the hospital.
  4. Knock on the door of the old lady down the street, the one who just talks and talks, and ask her how she’s doing.
  5. Drive an hour out of your way to visit those cousins you haven’t seen in a while.
  6. When you’re out shopping for yourself and you see something your mother might like, get it for her even if it isn’t her birthday or anything.
  7. Send a card to your uncle that made you think of him.
  8. For heaven’s sake, babysit your sister’s children for one lousy Saturday night so she and her husband can remember what it feels like to be married for a few hours. Would it kill you?

 

A person falls through many, many cracks before they wind up living out of their car or on the streets, or in a weekly hotel or an abandoned building. What finally snaps and drops them to the bottom is their ties to people who love them.

LEARN MORE ABOUT HUNGER & HOMELESSNESS IN AUSTIN THIS WEEK. MANY EVENTS AND OPPORTUNITIES TO CHOOSE FROM. VISIT http://hhweekaustin.com/

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Austin’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is almost upon us; it takes place November 13-19. Awareness days/weeks/months are interesting things: as Austinites, we’re all pretty aware that homelessness exists – we see it every day. And we know that people go hungry. So why have an awareness week for problems we all already know about?

Part of it is that we don’t understand the magnitude of the problem. Nearly one in five adults and one in four children in Austin struggle to meet basic nutritional needs. A 2009 census of the homeless in Austin counted 2585 homeless men and womyn, barely more than half of them in shelters. Then there are the nuances of the problem that we’re not aware of: the relationship between homelessness and mental illness, chronic medical problems, or legal obstacles like obtaining identification.

So Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week is a great opportunity for Austinites. There are events of every sort going down: opportunities to give, volunteer, learn, and party! Here are a few of the events happening. You can find the full schedule here.

Homeless Memorial Sunrise Service

House the Homeless - Homeless Memorial Service

What: Memorial service for the homeless men and womyn who lost their lives this year living on the streets of Austin.

When/Where: 6:58 am Nov 14, Homeless Memorial & Tree of Remembrance at 1st and Riverside

No More Hunger Luncheon

What: Educational luncheon with representatives from Capital Area Food Bank and Meals on Wheels and More.

When/Where: 11:30am-1pm November 15, California Pizza Kitchen at Barton Creek Mall (2901 S Capital of Texas Highway)

Free Showing of The Soloist

What: Free showing of The Soloist, a 2009 film dealing with homelessness and mental illness starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.

When/Where: 7:00 pm November 17, Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (1120 S Lamar Blvd)

The Dynamics of Domestic Violence and its Connection to Homelessness

What: Interactive presentation on the connection between homelessness and domestic violence, hosted by Safeplace.

When/Where: 3-5pm November 18, Safeplace (2001 South Chicon St)

Understanding Youth Homelessness in Austin

What: Educational presentation on youth homelessness in Austin with interactive simulations and Q&A with Lifeworks staff.

When/Where: 4-7pm November 19, Lifeworks (408 W 23rd st)

Putting Homelessness in Reverse

With the exception of Leslie, everyone’s favorite cross-dressing perennial mayoral candidate with his own iPhone app, the homeless in Austin don’t have much of a net presence. With more and more of our interaction taking place on the interwebs, this digital divide excludes the homeless from public discourse – and our community as a whole – in a pretty big way.

Enter Tom Baum, founder of Homeless Coach and all-around awesomely-named dude. Tom’s starting Homeless Coach as a way to help the homeless get back on their feet by providing that much-needed sense of community. The goal is to provide the homeless with a network of good connections and, in his words, “a life transition plan that the individual and community own and continue executing.” They hope to start as early as next month.

In order to accomplish its goals, Homeless Coach will consist of an intensive six-month program. After getting sponsorship, homeless enrollees will live in the titular Homeless Coach – an RV retrofitted with a ton of high-tech gadgetry to keep its occupants connected to the outside world.  While living in the RV, enrollees will receive life coaching to plan their transition from homelessness. They’ll remain connected with sponsors through weekly meetings and videoconferences, and stream live webcasts to engage with the community as a whole.

Looking through Homeless Coach’s press, you can tell Tom is buzzing with ideas. Every facet of every part of the process is laid out in intricate detail and explained in a complex diagram. It’s a lot to take in at once, and a convincing argument to pitch in. The amount of collaborative effort required to get things going will be a proving ground for the sense of community Tom hopes to bring to the homeless.

You can help make it happen! You can donate money or sponsor a homeless enrollee. Homeless Coach’s FAQ has a wishlist for volunteers and donations. Volunteers are needed for design, construction, coaching, fundraising, and plenty of other tasks. Your business can become a sponsor by donating in-kind goods and services ranging from netbooks to lumber to web hosting to accounting. Chances are, Homeless Coach could use your help.

Give… but don’t give… to help panhandlers. I think…

PERSONAL NOTE: I keep a few dollars in my cupholder to hand out to panhandlers at a red light. I “tip” panhandlers on the street better than I tip the waitstaff when I go out at night. And when I don’t hand out money, I try to smile and say hello. So all this below is my confused — and confusing – attempt to try to understand this “Know Before You Give” campaign. Geez, people!

Today there was a news story about the “Know Before You Give” campaign, which encourages people to give to social service agencies. Great idea! Please do give to social service agencies.

Need a beer sign

You ever hold a sign like this?

And if you feel like giving a few bucks to a panhandler on your way to drink beers with your friends, go ahead. Throw a few at the valet and the bartender, while you’re at it. Why not? Those guys could use a beer, too!

Wait. What I meant to say was, don’t give money to the panhandler, who probably has to sleep under I-35 (and who will probably just spend the money on beer).

The best way to help him is to give to a charity like Front Steps. Front Steps is a nonprofit that operates ARCH, the homeless shelter. The City of Austin provides the building and a grant to Front Steps to operate the shelter.

So if the city’s giving to Front Steps and you’re giving to Front Steps, these poor bar and club owners won’t have to worry about people outside their doors asking for money — and they can get more of your money inside!

Uh, and what I meant by that was that we should support local businesses and work together to keep downtown safe AND help the homeless. (Except that… well, studies have shown that most panhandlers aren’t homeless, and most homeless people don’t panhandle.* Hmmm.)

Anyway! That’s why we’re asking you, Austin partiers and beer drinkers, to take more responsibility. Know Before You Give partners created this campaign, now it’s your turn: Stop feeding the cats! They’ll just keep coming back! If we stop feeding them, maybe they’ll just go away!

Let’s educate ourselves on the importance of not giving to panhandlers. (At the same time, just in case, feel free to brush up on your own panhandling skills.)

* “Contrary to common belief, panhandlers and homeless people are not necessarily one and the same. Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle, and only a small percentage of panhandlers are homeless.”  (U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services)

JULY 30: Events, workshops and other news from Austin philanthopic community

A bit of a round-up of interesting items I came across this week.

1. Homeless Coach: Missioned to “ssensselemoH” …reverse Homelessness!

Homeless Coach

For two years Tom Baum and friends have put all their energy into helping more homeless people get coaching and support to turn their lives around. They also find RVs and turn them into Homeless Coaches, gutting them, renovating them and using the entire process to bring more people into the effort.

Each Homeless Coach Houses 1-2 homeless people, employs 5-10 homeless (part time), coaches 10 homeless off the streets every 6 months while sharing life stories, meals, fun, etc. Participants graduate with renewed purpose, a life plan and a “family” of community contacts who recognize their God-given talents and gifts.

This Saturday, they’re doing an “Extreme RV Makeover,” and it begins with a gutting of an old RV. Can’t make it up to Pflugerville to help? Then watch it online via livestream. The fun happens from 10 am – 3 pm. Livestream access and more information here.

2. Free workshops and brown bags for nonprofit beginners

Mando Rayo of Cultural Strategies

I don’t know why I’m just now discovering this. If you’re trying to start a nonprofit or take your early nonprofit to the next level, please send someone to the City’s Cultural Arts Division workshops in August. Here are some of the offerings:

AUG 17: Multucultural Marketing (this one by the incomparable Mando Rayo)
AUG 18: Creating a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit
AUG 25: Lessons in Advanced Grant Writing

Find out more here.

3. Good news for the Long Center

Courtesy Long Center

Thanks to you, the Long Center exceeded its fundraising goals for its fiscal year, which ended on June 30, surpassing the $1.6 million mark. See the Austin Business Journal story here.

4. Habitat for Humanity one of biggest homebuilders in America

photo from Tom Hubba

As Habitat celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, it’s worth noting that the organization was recently ranked among the top-ten builders in the nation by Builder Magazine.  See this from the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

As the housing and financial crisis struck several years ago, the large publicly traded builders, including D.R. Horton Inc. and KB Home, pulled back. But Habitat kept building.

“We’re a lot less tied to the market as a whole,” said Mark Andrews, Habitat’s senior director for U.S. operations. “We’ve been able to keep chugging along at a pretty solid pace.”

As a result, Habitat, a Christian group founded 34 years ago in Americus, Ga., around a philosophy of constructing and rehabilitating homes for low-income families, was recently ranked as one of the nation’s top 10 builders for the first time in a closely watched industry list compiled by Builder Magazine.

Learn more about the good work Habitat’s doing in Austin here.