By Irit Umani
When I examine through Trinity Center’s lenses the year that just ended, I am looking to find out whether we remained true to our mission “to serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Austin.” I am looking to find out if we changed or increased services to the neighbors we serve in ways that respond to their actual needs. I am looking also to find out if we did so with deep care and compassion. Are we still serving neighbors rather than clients? And are we playing a role in the larger community’s attempt to end homelessness?
This year, ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness), of which we are a member, came out with a “Draft Action Plan to End Homelessness in Austin/Travis County,” which I recommend that you read. The report states that there are over 7,000 people who are homeless in our county; that the majority of them are in Austin and many are gathered in downtown around/near ARCH, Salvation Army, Caritas and Trinity Center blocks, where most of the services to these neighbors are offered.
It also states that African Americans are disproportionately represented in this population. To be exact, eight times (!) their proportion in the overall population of Austin. “Disproportionately” in this case is quite an understatement. In fact, all minorities and marginalized groups are represented among our neighbors in significantly larger numbers that in society at large, to mention Latino, gay/lesbians/transgender and mentally challenged to highlight some.
This alone makes it clear that homelessness is a social justice issue, an inequality issue and a spiritual issue reflecting on who we truly are as a society. The city’s Action Plan calls for a significant increase in shelter beds, Permanent Supportive Housing units and navigators (staff dedicated to connect people to housing) among its recommendations.
What I am left with is waiting to see if in the actual plan there will be an actual city and county BUDGET to address homelessness and end it as Austin aspires to do — or will we have more studies and pilot programs instead. Stay tuned.
Alan Graham of Community First Village defines homelessness as a “catastrophic breakdown in a family.” I agree, and I ask myself if we at Trinity Center are helping to alleviate the deep sense of isolation and loneliness, the pain, the feeling of unworthiness and the despair that our neighbors experience? Are we a community rather than “experts” serving the “needy?” Do we make a difference? Can we do better?
At times these questions pose challenges. Once in a while, we ask a person to leave and we even occasionally ask a person to not come back for a set time. We do this when a neighbor’s behavior is offensive and/or unsafe to others. We believe in mutual respect. Yet when this happens it is always time-limited because we believe in redemption and in second chances, and we question whether we might act out, too, if we lived in our neighbors’ circumstances. We cultivate saying no (when appropriate), while not throwing anyone out of our hearts.
Trinity Center grew to become a big hub for other service providers to reach out to offer their expertise to our neighbors. Integral Care (mental health services), ECHO’s Coordinated Assessment team, the Food Bank (for food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF eligibility and registration), Communities for Recovery, the HOST team, C.A.R.E, Community Care (for MAP and other income-based health services), the C.D. Doyle Clinic, office of the VA – all are organizations that use our center each week to offer services. I asked some of them how they assess their work at Trinity Center. Following are two that offered feedback.
ECHO – Coordinated Assessment – James Aguilar: “From all the places that I work to offer this service, Trinity Center is by far the busiest and where I see most of the people. Here we are a part in a bigger puzzle of services, and it is more holistic. Our team and I feel like we are part of the staff, not just outsiders. I love being here.”
Community Care – Dante Hernandez: Dante started his weekly (now bi-weekly) work at Trinity in June. In six months he signed up 158 people to MAP. These people now have access to health care, which they did not have prior. He says: “People here really appreciate the help that I offer and express it verbally in ways that touch me deeply. I sign up people who are homeless to MAP (Medical Assistance Program) and other health benefits in a few places, but it is here at Trinity that I get most of my new clients and the warmest responses.”
This feedback reflects our understanding that we are in community with the folks that we serve.
Data Report for 2017:
We don’t ask for people’s ID before they enter Trinity Center, thus we don’t have an exact number of individuals that we serve each year. About 900 neighbors receive their mail at Trinity Center, and most of the people entering the center do not use us as their mailing address. We estimate that at least 3 times the individuals using Trinity as their mailing address come to us — estimated at 2,700 to 3,500 people.
We served 16,764 breakfasts and a total of over 34,000 meals.
We paid the fees for 1,552 ID documents (481 Birth Certificates and 1,071 Texas ID cards/DL) plus 148 other documents.
We helped 87 people with long distance Greyhound tickets, with the generous collaboration of churches, to cities in Texas, Seattle, New York and so many other places.
We gave 2,756 seven-day bus passes.
433 neighbors have completed or updated their Coordinated Assessment at Trinity Center since mid-May, and 216 of them were new entries.
Volunteers: We had 49 volunteers, without whom we could not open our doors, who were dedicated to a weekly shift; 494 volunteers from different churches served our Sunday worship and meal program; 112 came to us through National Charity League as mother-daughter teams; 50 served our yearly Christmas party. Overall our volunteers this year served a total of 5,837 hours, which is equivalent to 3 full time paid positions. We are in deep gratitude to all of them.
123 (72 female, 51 male) neighbors were in case management at Trinity Center in 2017. 42 (34%) secured housing and 19 (15%) moved from streets to shelters.
72 (58.5%) neighbors re-established benefits, such as Social Security, SSI, MAP (health care program) and food stamps.
Only 6 (less than 5%) found jobs, highlighting how difficult it is and how under-qualified neighbors who are homeless are for the job market. It is not due to a lack of trying by those who are employable.
111 (90%!) of our case-management clients completed Coordinated Assessment – a requirement for subsidized/supportive housing.
All of our neighbors in case management were connected/referred to other services/partner agencies.
Though we offered case management to more people this year, we saw the same number of people as in last year securing a place to live. It is my opinion that the city’s vision to “end homelessness” is an empty slogan until such time that the vision is matched by a financial allocation of funds dedicated specifically to building, finding and funding Permanent Supportive Housing units. The draft “plan to end homelessness” (referred to in the second paragraph of this report) suggests that in order to end homelessness here, an additional $29.5 million should be allocated in 2018 and $37.5 million in 2019. To date Austin City Council allocated additional $2 million for serving the homeless population 2018. Case rested.
That said, we see our role at Trinity Center as serving, inspiring, assisting, dare I say loving, our brothers and sisters who are homeless; accepting and respecting them where they are; and helping the ones who are ready to do all they can to change their situation. Though we play a role and participate in the city-wide plan, our work is in the “here and now,” and I am proud of what we do and how we do it.
Two of the services that we offered this year are new. Early in the year we started helping neighbors who need to travel to other cities and states where family or jobs were available to them. We verified by phone that this indeed was the case. We also collaborated with other churches to cover the cost of the sometimes expensive travel price. We spent over $7,000 on this service in 2017 and are dedicating a larger amount to this for 2018. In 2017 we helped 87 neighbors to travel to places where their homeless situation came to an end.
We also availed Trinity Center to ECHO’s staff to offer Coordinated Assessment, without which neighbors cannot access housing in Austin. This program started as a one month pilot, proved successful and will continue in 2018 as well. Since mid-May, 433 completed a Coordinated Assessment at Trinity, with 216 of them new to the system.
Additionally, in 2017 we were able to afford a much need renovation to our facility. Floors were resurfaced, we bought new kitchen prep tables, sinks, food containers and shelves. All of this was much needed and, thank God, financially do-able.
The staff of Trinity Center remained throughout this year, though we already know that our dedicated and deeply appreciated Operations Coordinator, Lindsey Sermons, will leave us in May 2018. Bruce Scott has been our kitchen “king” since January 2017, and the rest of us have been Trinity employees for 4.5 to 8 years. Deep gratitude to Emily Prince, Lindsey Sermons, Diane Holloway, Bruce Scott and Lillie Frey (AmeriCorps). We rocked! Go Team!
Contributions – financial support:
Our work is dependent on the good hearts of foundations, families and individuals who choose Trinity Center for their contributions, and in so doing enable us to offer services to the most marginalized and poor in our community. We are indebted to the following:
Grants (ranging from $10,000 to $78,000)
Ruth & Paul Connor Foundation
Episcopal Health Foundation
Louisiana Charities Trust
Donald D. Hammill Foundation
Religious Coalition to Assist the Homeless
Emergency Food and Shelter Program (Federal, Travis County)
Family Foundations/Trusts/individuals/churches (ranging from $2,500 to $23,000)
Plater Family Trust
Angela & Al D’Andrea – McCullough Heating and Air-conditioning
Martha & Don DeGrasse
Shepherds Point 5 Family Foundation
Robin & Malcolm Cooper
Rachael & Ben Vaughan Foundation
Buena Vista Foundation – Betsy Abel
Riki Rushing and Allen Gilmer
Kelly & Lewis Talbert
Three Sisters – Heart Sing
Leila & Jim Lederer- Storage Depot
Karen S. Blair
Ellen Dorsey & Jim Susman
Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd
St. Mathew’s Episcopal Church
Mr. Kevin Walsh
Robert & Mary Horton Fund
Mr. Geoff Connor
Rev. Judith Jones and the Whitley Charitable Foundation
Louise & Peter Pincoffs
Cissy and Mark Warner
The Housing Authorities of Austin
Sharon & John Ross – via Austin Community Foundation
There are hundreds of other individuals and families who support us financially, too many to mention all of them. “It takes a village,” and you (mentioned or not) are members of our Trinity village. Staff, board members, volunteers and the neighbors that we serve bow to you in deep gratitude. If I forgot to add your name, please forgive me, and please know that my heart did not forget you.
All combined — from donations of $10 from a neighbor to a grant of $78,000 and all dollar amounts in between — Trinity Center received a total of $460,000 (and change) in revenue in 2017.
Praise God and His work, which is done by so many.