Humanizing, helping the homeless

On the Record with Diane Holloway:

The TCDP Blog

Humanizing Helping the Homeless

November 26th, 2012 

Diane Holloway

Some people dream of landing high paying jobs and getting rich. Other people dream of making the world a better place, with or without money. Annie Bryant, operations coordinator for Trinity Center, falls into the latter category.

Trinity Center is a small-budget organization that assists Austin’s downtown homeless neighbors. It will be the recipient of our December 4th Holiday Party and Charity Drive. Click here for more information about the party and to see Trinity’s simple wish list — items that can mean the difference between surviving winter or perishing on the streets.

Born and raised in Austin, Bryant has a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas. Before joining Trinity Center, she worked with prison inmates, adolescents in residential facilities, survivors of sexual assault and low-income children. She also founded and managed a local coffee shop and helped start an international school in Morocco. Like a lot of the homeless people she serves and the volunteers who work with her, Bryant tends to smile a lot.

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QUESTION: Nobody ever got rich working with poor and disadvantaged people. What drew you to working with prisoners, sexually abused and now homeless people?

BRYANT: It think it’s innate in my personality. I would like to have lots of money. Who wouldn’t? But it’s not the thing that motivates me in my life. This job lets me do what I like to do, and that’s help people.

QUESTION: I’ve been a volunteer at Trinity Center for about four years now, and I know a lot of these neighbors pretty well. For me, they defy the preconceptions I had about homeless people. How would you describe them and the problems they present?

BRYANT:  I think of them as people whose lives are in crisis for various reasons. I did have some nervousness when I first started here, because I hadn’t worked with homeless people. But then I realized that they are really the same people I’ve worked with before. They’re just living outdoors or in shelters.

I think people may think of the homeless as pests in society, the drunk on the corner. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s easy to see the visible parts of the population. But there’s a huge underlying population you don’t see — because they’re just like everybody else. Many of them grew up in poverty. A lot of people come into homelessness because they live paycheck to paycheck, and then something medical happens or they lose a job and can’t pay the rent. If they don’t have a good support system, they end up on the streets, and the problems just start compounding.

QUESTION: What can Trinity Center do that other facilities cannot?

BRYANT: The most important thing we can do is meet needs when they need to be met. We don’t have to go through tons of bureaucracy. We can do some things on the same day — like give out bus passes to help people get to an appointment. If it gets cold and someone needs a coat, we can often provide one right then. Everything that’s given to us is handed out right away. We have a small budget and a small staff, so we’re really efficient with the money we do have.

And we are able to do things for our neighbors that other agencies can’t or won’t do — like organizing (one of the frequent Trinity neighbor’s) funeral. I don’t know of any other place that would or could have done that.

QUESTION:  Tell us what you like most about working with homeless and disadvantaged people at Trinity Center?

BRYANT: I really like our community center feel and that we will accept anyone and treat them with respect. They are people I get to interact with every day. I do have professional boundaries, but I also consider them my friends. On a personal level, they give back to me in ways I haven’t had before. They are concerned about me, like when I had my tonsils out. They all wanted to know how I was doing. They always ask how my day’s going.

I think we have a mutual respect. I know a lot of them by name — first and last name — and when I call them by name, they’re surprised. When you know people by name, it humanizes homelessness.

QUESTION: I’m sometimes surprised by how optimistic they are and how they can still find humor in the darkest times of life. They smile at the smallest blessings, don’t you think?

BRYANT: Human resiliency is really alive at Trinity, and you can see it all over the Center. I think we see them at their best when they’re here — and maybe they are at their best, because they’re being respected.