Every Monday morning, about 50 women gather on the steps at East 7th near Trinity Street in downtown Austin. Some hoist sleeping bags; others, backpacks. A spotted dog is tied to the railing. These neighbors are ready for a hot breakfast, a smile – and a new outfit.
“Every day breaks your heart,” says Irit Urmani, executive director of the Trinity Center. “And every day heals your heart.”
It’s difficult to calculate the number of homeless people in Austin. In 2011, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition counted 2,300 on its one-night canvas. What is clear is that homeless women walk a dangerous path.
A warm, safe and very special place
In 2008 alone, Trinity Center logged over 22,000 neighbor visits. Its Women to Women program serves as many visitors as its infrastructure can support.
Volunteers contribute their time and talents, scurrying to make coffee, lemonade and set out burritos, sausage biscuits and oatmeal. Neighbors smile as they file through the door, choose a breakfast and sit down. A volunteer plays the guitar and neighbors sing. There is a devotional.
Just past the doors of the dining room, there is more activity as the hallway is transformed into a shopping mall stocked with jeans, shirts, (important!) shoes and toiletries. Racks of blouses, skirts and dresses line the walls.
Let the shopping begin!
After breakfast, volunteers become personal shoppers in what may be the universal feminine experience. “That is absolutely adorable on you,” a volunteer reassures her shopper. “What do you think about the blue blouse with it?”
Clothes donated by the women of St. John’s United Methodist Women are hot items. The red lace camisole goes fast. So do the hoodies, comfortable shorts and jeans.
Everybody needs shampoo, toothpaste, brushes and floss. Sturdy, comfortable shoes are a special need. Women laugh. A neighbor who just got a job at Denny’s sorts through the rack for black cotton slacks.
Success depends on volunteers and donations
The Women-to-Women program is unique to the center and the city. Started in 2005 as an outgrowth of a larger mission to serve the homeless in downtown Austin, it runs on Mondays and Tuesdays of the seven-day Trinity Center week. Mondays are devoted to breakfast and shopping; Tuesdays to financial concerns and showers.
Trinity Center operates with a bare-bones staff that depends heavily on volunteers and donations. The St. John’s UMW donation thrilled neighbors and volunteers alike, providing shorts, pants, shirts and a few unexpected treasures (like the red lace camisole) just as the weather turned hot.
Submitted by Raye ElizabethWard