ECHO, St. David's Foundation launch new program to build a community approach to homelessness

The new initiative will build the communities capacity to address homelessness along with collecting data from people who have increased access to those in need. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
The new initiative will build the communities capacity to address homelessness along with collecting data from people who have increased access to those in need. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

The new initiative will build the communities capacity to address homelessness along with collecting data from people who have increased access to those in need. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, ECHO, and St. David’s Foundation are launching a new initiative early next year that will financially support and connect organizations doing work on homelessness issues with the aim of addressing inequity.

The Austin Street Outreach Collaborative, backed by $2 million in funding from the St. David's Foundation, will be used to fund community organizations that are already working on homelessness issues in the city.

“What I’m recognizing, as we are getting outside of traditional homelessness response, is that there are a lot of small nonprofits, a lot of folks doing this work in their communities,” Executive Director of ECHO Matt Mollica said.

While the it has not been determined what organizations will get the funding, some examples of organizations the program is targeting are the North Austin Muslim Community Center, the Saffron Trust, which works to break the cycle of poverty for women, and Mission Accomplished, which has a mobile laundry truck to help individuals without ways to access clean clothing.

The program is intended to address systemic inequities, such as the overrepresentation of Black individuals experiencing homelessness and the disproportionately long time it takes those individuals to be helped through traditional homelessness programs, said Quiana Fisher, ECHO’s homelessness response system strategy director.


“Looking through a racial equity lens, the realization is that this part of the work has been underfunded for the time, and has not been able to reach those who are overrepresented in the community,” Fisher said.

She and Mollica said people of color are already overrepresented among those experiencing housing insecurity, and they suspect the divide is greater than the current data shows.

Ed Burger, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation, along with Mollica and Fisher, said the plan developed after they spent months talking to individuals experiencing and recovering from homelessness, along with the organizations that are reaching them.

The program will fund smaller nonprofits and organizations that are already doing community work, while collecting both qualitative and quantitative data from those organizations to better understand the scope of homelessness in Austin.

The community

Fisher and Mollica said many of the people most equipped to reach people of color who are struggling with housing are local organizations and nonprofits that are already doing the work. Many of those organizations do not consider it homelessness work, but see it as community programs.

Mollica said the way homelessness is currently addressed often leaves out people of color.

“White folks talk about it as homelessness services; the folks in the community talk about it as just doing community work,” Mollica said.

Mollica said working with these organizations means taking a more holistic approach to homelessness work, and it means connecting with grassroots groups that already understand how to reach people of color who are in need of help.

Fisher said some examples of this community work includes prison ministries or programs aimed at poverty, both of which address homelessness without it being the main focus.

“When we talk about ending homelessness, we think of four walls and roof, but it is more about [asking], ‘Are you connected to the community?’” Fisher said.

She said the idea is for individuals who are struggling to access community support, such as affordable child care or a food pantry.

“The hope is that those connections stay with people far beyond when they are able to be in stable housing,” Fisher said.

Removing barriers

Mollica said one of the key pieces of the project is the flexibility organizations will have with the funding.

He said the money will be doled out in lump sums to help the organizations operate without a ton of hurdles to access it.

He said the funding can be used for direct homelessness services, or for expenses such as helping an individual pay rent, find child care or fix their car to prevent them from losing their housing.

The money will also help the smaller organizations grow the infrastructure they need, such as systems to collect data. He said this work ultimately builds more capacity as a community to address homelessness.

Burger said the flexibility of the funds acknowledge that sometimes what struggling individuals need most is something like hygiene products or a shirt for an interview.

“That is acknowledging the humanity of our neighbors,” Burger said.

St. David’s Foundation

Burger said while homelessness is not necessarily a main tenant of their grant processes, it has increasingly become a focus of the Foundation, given its effect on the health of individuals and the growth in community focus on the issue.

Over the last four years, Burger said they have spent about $30 million on homelessness work. As the foundation continues to grow its presence in that sphere, Burger said he set out on a personal journey to educate himself about the best way to direct that funding.

“I gave myself the mission ... to take on a learning opportunity to really figure out where these issues are today. I engaged with a lot of community members and a lot of elected officials,” Burger said.

He said the foundation invested the $2 million in the program over the next two years as a start-up cost, or proof of concept. The St. David's Foundation also invested another $1.1 million to support ECHO.

His hope is that the local, state and federal governments, along with other nonprofits, will see the success of the program and change the way they respond to homelessness.

“There is a path we are working towards sustainability; it’s not just a two year project,” Mollica said. “It's going to be needed until we end homelessness in Austin, Travis County.”

Fisher said the idea is that others take a more wholesale, community-oriented approach toward addressing homelessness.

“ECHO, the city [and] the county talks about ending racial inequity. ... This is a mandate to actually do it,” Mollica said.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to provide more information about the St. David's Foundation grant.


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