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.

Austin young professionals party, with proceeds going toward a house

Austin Habitat Young Professionals HYP party 2009

Last year's Austin HYP party was off-the-charts cool.

“Party for a purpose!”

Let’s face it, the only reason we party is to have fun. But if a byproduct of that is that someone gets a home — and a nonprofit gets to introduce new people to its mission — all the better.

Here’s another fact to face: Gala’s can be expensive, y’all. The last one I attended (though I didn’t pay, ahem) was $500 a couple. And then all +1,000 of us sat outside and had Tex-Mex!

Here’s what I like about the 4th Annual HYP Gala:

1. It’s on a Friday night at Mercury Hall. Not that I’ve ever been there, but this makes the dress code sound more fun than formal.

2. It’s only $85. That’s drinks, dinner, entertainment, mess-around money for you folks who don’t have to get permission from anyone to go out. You’re going to spend that anyway; why not have the money go to help a neighbor in need?

3. All proceeds go toward a house. HYP is the young professionals group for Austin’s Habitat for Humanity, which, as you know, builds people houses. So you buy a ticket, and a deserving family gets a house.

There’s also the food, the company, the venue… yes, most importantly the cause.

See more information here, then buy two tickets – one for you, one for a friend. They can pay you back and thank you later.

PS: This year, Habitat celebrates 25 years in Austin! Congratulations! Now’s a great time to learn more about Habitat and get involved.

Introducing 12 Baskets for Mobile Loaves & Fishes

12 Baskets Homeless Austin Danny Maggie IAMHERE T3Last fall I was chatting with Alan Graham at some event when he asked me, “So did I see something in one of your Tweets about custom publishing?”

And that’s how 12 Baskets started. Six months later, we’re about to launch the first magazine issue, timed to coordinate with the launch of a huge campaign to raise awareness about homelessness and put Danny & Maggie, a homeless couple from Austin, in a permanent home.

I wanted to thank all the people who contributed, but especially recognize Robin Finlay, who donated her time and talent as an art director to make the magazine…. well, it just works. That’s what great art directors do, and Robin — sitting across from me now, btw — is definitely one of the best art directors in Texas.

Please open it here. More importantly, get to know the people in this magazine and, if you’re so inclined, help them by donating or volunteering. You can even text “Danny” to 20222 to donate $10 to get Danny and his wife, Maggie, off the streets and into a permanent home.

Thank you, and let me know what you think.

P.S. Thanks, Alan, for the opportunity. We learned a lot and had a great time.

New data reports status of Austin community conditions

This is not good news.

From an email sent by the Community Action Network:

(BTW, CAN’s marking Poverty Awareness Month, y’all! Which begs the question, Do poor people really need to raise their awareness of poverty… and for a whole month? I think they’re painfully aware, thank you.)

Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs has released its 2009 Community Impact Report on Community Conditions. The report provides a general overview of how our community is doing with regard to basic needs, housing, workforce development, education, behavioral health and other areas in which Travis County invests funds for services.

A few highlights…
•    Since the beginning of 2009,  Austin Energy has received 75% more requests for utility assistance than for all of 2008.
•    In November 2009, 107,288 Travis County residents received food stamps, up 68% from January 2008.
•    Foreclosure postings in Travis County rose 110% from 3,482 postings in 2007 to 7,309 postings in 2009.
•    There was a 28% increase in visits to local emergency rooms by individuals presenting primarily with mental health issues between 2006 and 2008.
•    Between 2003 and 2008, the Austin MLS median home price rose by 22% and the average home price rose by 24%, but median family income increased only by 3%.

Just another Alan Graham story from another Alan Graham fan

I’m telling you, someday someone is going to write a book about Alan Graham, founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. No, a book isn’t right. Too flat.

They’re going to make a movie about him. He’s just that charismatic of a guy. But it’s beyond charisma; it’s the way he uses his brain.

Alan Graham has the rare ability to find the shortest path from problem to solution. You won’t spend 10 minutes talking with the man before he says something so fresh and so startling that the only possible reaction you could have to what he just said is, “Duh.”

Not in an “Everybody knows that,” way but rather in a “Well, shit, why didn’t anybody else think of that?” way.

For example, a couple years ago a short-lived ice storm hit downtown, closing office buildings and reducing traffic to almost nothing. The shelters and soup kitchens were closed, but people still needed food that day, probably that day more than others. Alan Graham got a phone call. Could he bring a truck down?

No, he couldn’t bring a truck down. But he could send some pizzas. How many pizzas did they need?

He called pizza delivery, made them a deal, and had several dozen pizzas delivered downtown. Couple hundred bucks. Lots of people fed.

Maybe that sounds obvious now, but who else thinks to deliver pizza to homeless people during an ice storm, when no one else can come up with a way to help them? Duh.

Congratulations to Lights.Camera.Help., first-ever nonprofit film festival

Austin may have fallen in the ranks of big cities that volunteer, but it should be proud of the people who do step up – especially those who do so in creative new ways.

David Neff, Aaron Bramley and Rich Vazquez deserve lots of credit for the immense amount of work they put into Lights.Camera.Help. The first-ever nonprofit film festival was innovative in a lot of ways: It was a fundraiser, it was free to nonprofits, and it honored some great and budding filmmakers whose work puts a spotlight on good causes.

. There are many online “film fests” that link to videos-for-causes, but there’s something about seeing these films in person with a group of strangers that you can’t get online. That setting not only allows you to connect with the film, it allows the audience members to connect with each other. It also makes everyone who sees those films accountable for the knowledge they gain. Everyone at the screenings and wrap party for LCH can and should take an action – we know you were there, we know you saw the film.

Not that that was their intent – to lecture and lean on you. But thanks to LCH, there are more witnesses to the needs featured in these films.