AUSTIN, TX — As temperatures drop, conditions worsen for those living on city streets. In 2017, the homeless coalition estimated there are 7,000 people who were homeless in the Austin area.
Of those 7,000, there are more than 2,000 area school children at severe risk of homelessness and more than 600 children experiencing "literal homelessness," which means they are living in conditions not suitable for human habitation.
On Wednesday, Nov. 13, a community-wide forum is being hosted by Austin Youth Collective, LifeWorks, Caritas of Austin, The SAFE Alliance and ECHO Austin to discuss rapid re-housing initiatives and what resources are available to area homeless youth. Representatives and members of each group have a collaborative goal to end youth homelessness by 2020.
"A lot of people in Austin are very surprised at the magnitude of the problem of youth homelessness because as a community we top everyone's charts in places to live, vitality, access to opportunities so people who don't necessarily have access to that opportunity can be invisible," said Susan McDowell, executive director of LifeWorks, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing, work force and mental health services to help homeless youth heal from trauma.
McDowell explained the groups aim to work with not only other non-profit agencies, but as well as school districts, child protective services and juvenile justice systems.
"78% of youth experiencing homelessness in Austin have experienced foster care, juvenile justice or both. So very often they have experienced the kind of trauma that it takes time and stability and healing environments to reverse," said McDowell.
McDowell also addressed a common misconception often perceived by the public of homeless youth.
"I think what's also surprising to people is there's this image often too of that youth who have run away from home, are homeless as having done that as an act of defiance or a choice where the vast majority of youth that are on the streets are fleeing abuse or they aged out of foster care and literally don't have any other choice or avenues of support in their lives and at the same time want to be part of the solution," said McDowell
Erin Goodison is the Senior Director of Housing with The SAFE Alliance and agrees there is a significant problem of youth homelessness and homelessness as a whole right here in Austin. She said right now there are close to 5,000 homeless households in the city, which is defined by any grouping that reaches out to them and says 'we're a family we need help with housing.'
"There is a really intense intersection between homelessness, relationship violence, abuse and oppression and among youth, those who belong to different marginalized groups are really highly represented in the homeless population and SAFE wants to interrupt that cycle of homelessness, abuse and exploitation to help Austin's youth to establish safe and affordable housing so they can live life free of violence and access as much success and stability as possible," said Goodison. "Highly vulnerable individuals often don't have a safety net. They can do everything right and something still go wrong. We're excited about this youth rapid rehousing program as an opportunity to create the kind of support system that all young adults need in order to achieve safety and stability. We believe this is an opportunity for Austin to invest in the success of all of our young adults."
The Homeless Community Conversation will begin at noon at the Temple Beth Shalom on the Dell Jewish Community Center Campus.
Directors for the event have notified KVUE that the event is now at full capacity.