Why a South Austin church says it was successful and helped raise 550 homeless people
AUSTIN (KXAN) – Dozens of people lined up around Sunrise Community Church in south Austin on Monday, with Senior Director Mark Hilbelink walking through the crowd, greeting those he passed. As Senior Pastor for 11 years and as Director of the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center for six years, once-unknown faces have since become regulars.
When Austin voters approved Proposal B on May 1 and chose to reinstate the city’s camping ban, Hilbelink said he was not surprised. The writing had been on the walls for months, if not years, he said; the shock was that he hadn’t gone through a higher margin.
“Everyone wants to say, well, it’s criminalization or not criminalization. Everyone is all or nothing in the whole conversation, ”he said. “And the people who lose are those who are on the streets. And these are the people who don’t have the conversation. “
Sunrise has taken an integrated approach to solving the issues facing homeless people – a concept Hilbelink called a one-stop-shop for people to access food, clothing, shelter, medical care and resources. in mental health.
Apart from its internal food and clothing distribution and housing assistance programs, Sunrise has partnered with Integral Care to provide on-site mental health support and CommUnityCare for a physical health clinic. He highlighted city programs like San Antonio’s Strategic Homelessness Plans as a way to consolidate resources to improve their success and accessibility.
Holly Edwards spent 22 years on the streets, 19 of them in Austin. Disowned by her family, she said she had nothing and no way to find suitable housing or employment opportunities.
For about eight years, she has worked with Sunrise to access the necessary health and living resources. Sunrise helped her place her in her apartment, covering the rent for her while paying the remaining electricity costs.
The biggest misconception facing the homeless is that everyone prefers to live on the streets, she said. Although Edwards has said she agrees with some aspects of the ban – particularly that people living near intersections or freeways put themselves and others at risk – she did added that the ban did not understand the nuances of why people are homeless and how best to deal with them.
As someone struggling with a disability and mental health issues, she said proper medical and mental health care was hard to come by. She was fired from her job due to an old felony charge and fired from other positions due to some of her mental health issues, Edwards said.
Resources for the homeless are too dispersed without great transportation options, say the homeless
For those lucky enough to be able to afford public transit, trying to access resources located throughout the city becomes a long and complicated process, she said.
“Being homeless you are shot before you even have a chance,” she said.
Sunrise has helped house more than 550 people during her tenure, Hilbelink said. He said the success of the program ultimately depends on its integrated approach, listening to the specific resources that each person needs.
“This kind of integrated approach is not just some kind of moral imperative to combine humanitarian aid and housing. It is in fact the most effective and academically proven strategy for housing people, ”he said. “Because we are able to apply this comprehensive approach, we have been quite successful in getting people through the housing system and into housing.”
When the camping ban goes into effect on Tuesday, Hilbelink said problems with homelessness will not go away overnight.
As Austin studies methods of adaptation, including temporary and designated campsites, he said city leaders must look to other cities that have been successful in consolidating camps and resources for those there. live.
Homelessness is not a single-cause problem and its solution must be multidimensional in its approach, said Hilbelink. Taking measures such as consolidated resource centers and sanctioned living spaces are just two examples of steps towards a more proactive nuanced situation, he said.
“The reality is that most people, if you’ve lined up a hundred homeless people, they’ll tell you that they have a hundred different reasons for being homeless,” he said. “Let’s take a system-wide approach, let’s work as a team, let’s do it together.”