Members of the Public
Scroll down this page to find information about:
Our Project Mission
Meet Your Neighbors
What Causes Homelessness
An overview of the i-team's ongoing projects
How You Can Help
Our Project Mission
In Austin, there are over 2,000 individuals without a safe place to sleep. There are many reasons a person can become homeless, and these reasons range from the lack of affordable housing to the loss of family and community.
In 2017, the Innovation Office secured a three-year $1.25m grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to focus on the city's goal of ending homelessness. The grant funds an
i-team to help the city identify the best ways for City Council, departments, and the community to collaborate towards a shared understanding of homelessness in Austin.
Meet Your Neighbors
These are four of the 16 members of Austin's Homelessness Advisory Committee (AHAC):
"My goal as a child was to know everything about everything. I was crippled by accident but I knew how to sew and created my own business that way. Creating things by yourself helps you find expression for your thoughts and feelings in a material way."
"I graduated from ACC. I went a few years ago to finish my Associates. I got a 2-year degree. It only took 25 years to get a 2-year degree. I started in 1984 and then dropped out twice. That was a pretty cool accomplishment."
“I’m proud of placing my life with the Lord. I ask him to save me from myself. Even now I’m in transition, I ask if I’m on the high road or low road. I still trust him even if it’s dark and I’ll still know my way.”
“My favorite thing about Austin is that the people are friendly, but I’m not sure whether I can call this home. When you're homeless, the opportunities in front of you are complicated because you don't have money to explore everyday things average Americans enjoy."
AHAC is made up of 16 members who have previously or are currently experiencing homelessness. The goal of the group is to provide a voice for people with lived experience of homelessness so we can create better informed and more successful services. The group was created in the fall of 2017 by the City of Austin’s Office of Innovation’s Bloomberg i-team in coordination with the Department of Public Health and the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO).
When they are seen, heard, and given the opportunities to use their strengths and skills, people with lived experience of homelessness can become advocates for their community, and the system is able to design better services
Additionally, when they are given a voice and a platform, people and communities feel less marginalized.
Factors Leading to Homelessness
What Causes Homelessness?
Despite common perception, homelessness doesn’t just happen because of substance abuse or mental illness; those are just the visible causes that we can see when we encounter people living on the street. Instead, homelessness happens when factors at multiple levels of society - the structural, institutional, relationship, and individual levels - combine to create a difficult set of circumstances in someone’s life. Unfortunately, major contributors to homelessness such as poverty and childhood trauma tend to repeat themselves in families from generation to generation, making the cycle of homelessness extremely difficult to break.
Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, drawing huge numbers of educated and affluent new residents each year. Unfortunately, this inflow of people drives up rents across the city - but especially in East Austin - squeezing out low-income residents who can’t pay the increasing cost of living. Because of Austin’s historically racist housing policy, we have a shortage of affordable housing that disproportionately affects low-income minority residents.
We often discharge people from jails, hospitals, foster care, and the military without making sure they have stable housing when they leave. Below you can see the ways these different institutions can possibly lead to individual experiencing homelessness:
The period after psychiatric hospitalization can be unstable for people with mental illness. They are at high risk of suicide, rehospitalization, and violence against others. There is little continuity of care between the institution and follow-up outpatient care. Especially for people with substance use disorders and persistent psychiatric symptoms, the ultimate result is often homelessness.
Vets have often been separated from their family and friends for a long time by the time they get discharged. When they get back to civilian life, they often lack the social support they need. Adjusting back to civilian life is difficult when skills useful for the military and skills useful for civilian jobs don’t overlap very much. Following discharge, veterans face the following issues: isolation, employment barriers, disabilities, and mental health.
After leaving prison, ex-inmates face barriers to accessing services and regaining stability when they leave prison. Unlike services for veterans or people with disabilities, no system prioritizes services for ex-inmates. Regaining housing and employment is also difficult, because landlords and employers discriminate against people with criminal records. Communities of color experience several unique risk factors that contribute to higher levels of crime and poorer educational outcomes, both of which increase people’s risk of becoming homeless later on.
Kids “age out” of foster care at age 18, but many kids aren’t ready to support themselves at that age. Studies suggest that growing up in foster care does not prepare kids for the transition to living on their own, so it is not surprising that a large proportion of people experiencing homelessness grew up in foster care.
People need positive relationships with others to be healthy. Relationship breakdown, such as a breakup or the death of a caregiver, often pushes people over the edge when they’re already struggling to make ends meet. The end of such a relationship can mean losing housing, a source of money, and a source of social support all in one.
People may struggle with their own vulnerabilities. Substance abuse and mental health issues make it difficult to function normally, and people often lose their jobs as a result. Disability is such a big contributor to homelessness that some definitions of homelessness depend on the person having a disability. Financial instability and the inability to pay rent, although related to the job market and other factors at the structural level, is another major cause contributing to homelessness.
We have separated our ongoing projects into 3 different categories: Tools, Prototypes, and Recommendations.
Tools enhance service delivery by solving for a specific need. Our tools address the needs of both people experiencing homelessness and service providers.
These tools include:
Prototypes are future services under construction. These are the services we are currently testing, and we co-create these projects with people who have lived experience of homelessness.
These prototypes include:
Recommendations suggest a way to change services to fit people's realities. Successful services empower the humans at their center, accommodating for their strengths and their needs.
These recommendations include:
COPING SKILLS ZINE
An A5 zine booklet, the Coping Zine was created by the 16 members of the Homelessness Lived Experience Advisory Group. The zine includes information on healthy coping skills for people experiencing homelessness as a more positive way of approaching difficult situations with the people they interact with on a daily basis, including case managers, service providers, employers, and the public.
The Empathy Building Campaign has the goal of shifting the public's perception of people experiencing homelessness. The intention is to eliminate negative social biases that are associated with them and replacing these biases with the potential we all have as humans to rise up and become greater than our circumstances.
How Can I Help?
One of the i-team's tools is called the Public Engagement Guide. The guide is a poster with information about how to help people experiencing homelessness, with alternatives to doing nothing or donating to panhandlers.
When people are aware of the small ways they can help, there is an increased confidence when interacting with people experiencing homelessness and a decrease in negative emotions about homelessness. Exposure to the guide will increase the likelihood that someone will show kindness to someone experiencing homelessness.
Click on the poster to see an enlarged version of the guide.