By Doug Bell
Founder and Volunteer
In 1990 Diana and Doug Bell moved to Austin. They joined the congregation at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. In 1995 Doug was on the Vestry as the chair of the Mission and Outreach Committee. The Bells observed that many homeless people gathered on the streets around St. David’s. The Salvation Army was a block away, and other homeless service providers were in the area. Most of the members of the congregation of St. David’s came from the suburbs. They were sympathetic to the homeless, but some were afraid of them and many avoided contact with the homeless people on the streets. The church gave money generously to homeless causes, but not too many parishioners were directly involved in helping the homeless in the neighborhood.
In 1995 the Diocese of Texas held the Gathering in Houston, a meeting of all the churches in the diocese to share experiences and promote growth. Doug and Diana attended. One of the workshops they attended was about the Lord of the Street (LOTS) Ministry in downtown Houston. LOTS had been in operation for about five years helping homeless people around Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street. Every Sunday morning LOTS held a service for homeless people in their parish hall. After the service, they served breakfast and visited with the homeless people from the neighborhood. Doug and Diana were impressed with LOTS, and vowed to get something similar started at St. David’s in Austin.
Back at St. David’s an emergency shelter during freezing nights had been started. On about a half-dozen very cold nights, homeless people were fed a meal and allowed to sleep on the floor in Eden’s Gym. The Bells contacted the volunteers from the Emergency Shelter team and started to plan Trinity Center. At first it didn’t have a name. So Diana suggested naming it Trinity Streets, since it would be located on Trinity Streets, and the name was similar to Lord of the Streets.
For about three years the planning group waited for a new wing to be built by the church, so that the Trinity Streets service could get started. Many plans were drawn, and many ideas were considered. Previously a small building was on St. David’s property, where Caritas was offering services to the homeless. When Caritas moved to their new location, a block away, the Trinity Center started in October 1999 by offering a church service and a meal every Sunday afternoon at Caritas’ new location.
At first only about 25 people attended. Within a year, attendance had grown to about 50 people. As the ministry grew many more people volunteered to help, and a sense of community began to develop. The hands-on outreach proved to be much more rewarding to volunteers than just sending checks to homeless causes.
With a generous donation from the bequest of the late Barbara Jordan, many hands-on volunteers and the pro-bono help of contractor Eddie Cooper, a space was built for Trinity Center in the new wing of St. David’s Episcopal Church. In 2003 Trinity Center finally opened its doors at the corner of Trinity and 7th Streets. The first service was held on December 21, as a Christmas service, attended by an overflow crowd of about 150 neighbors, and followed by a grand party in Eden’s Gym.
For the first 9 months of 2004, Trinity Center struggled to get by with volunteers when it was open on weekdays. The Rev. Kern Huff was a half-time chaplain at the center, and Terry Heller, one of the founding board members, was the temporary executive director. Mary Eubanks and Betty Allen started English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes. An Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group was formed and met on Tuesday evenings.
In September 2004 an executive director, Beverly Williams-Hawkins, was hired. Under her leadership the ESL classes morphed into the Woman to Woman program on Mondays. The center began serving breakfast every weekday, and financial aide continued on a limited basis for emergency needs such as prescription drugs and bus tickets.
In March 2006 Mary Rychlik was hired as the new executive director. She is a licensed master social worker with years of experience dealing with homeless issues in Austin. In 2010 Irit Umani became the new Executive Director.
Since that time Trinity Center has flourished and grown. We now serve approximately 100 people every day. We offer new services such as assistance with obtaining identification cards, access to mail, computers and phones, individual case management, bus passes, limited long distance travel, help with co-pay for medication, clothes and showers for women, a weekly health clinic, access to mental health and VA services and much more.
Trinity Center has grown from a Sunday only activity in 1999 serving about 25 people per week to a six-day a week operation that serves over 100 people per day. The staff has grown to four professionals, a part-time kitchen assistance, interns and many volunteers.
The vision that Doug and Diana Bell had has come true. Trinity Center is a safe haven for our homeless neighbors where they feel love and acceptance. Hospitality and compassion are at the center of our mission. We have come to realize that we are all neighbors –the people receiving services and the people who offer the services. We are carrying out the Gospel by helping our neighbors as they walk through their daily lives, and our lives are enriched in the process.