Austin nonprofit seeks to end homelessness in the city

By Dani Cardenas

When Jesse Pye moved to Austin for college, he looked to be more involved in the community. However, he did not expect to spend the next four years helping a community kitchen serve over 250 meals to the homeless community.

Caritas of Austin is an Austin-based nonprofit with one mission: to end homelessness in the city.

The organization was founded in 1964 by Richard McCabe, a priest who noticed a large amount homeless people in the city, with nobody to help them. Over 50 years later, the nonprofit is still working to help Austin’s homeless community.

“While our organization has grown, our core work remains the same,” said Troy Gilbert, the major gifts officer for the organization. “The vision to relentlessly support our most vulnerable community members lives on today.”

(Credit: Dani Cardenas)

The nonprofit accepts homeless clients in the city and matches them up with a social worker to figure out the best approach to get out of homelessness.

“People experiencing homelessness have a very diverse range of needs and paths back to becoming a thriving community member,” said Gilbert. “Our social workers really work with them on a one-on-one basis.”

(Credit: Dani Cardenas)

The nonprofit is a “housing first” program, meaning its first priority is to provide permanent housing for those with diagnosed disabilities, and a “rapid rehousing” program for clients for people who have just recently come into homelessness.

“We take clients from a city-wide prioritization list,” said Gilbert. “They are the people most in danger in the streets, the social worker will come in and work out how to best use the programs offered.”

In addition to housing, Caritas offers additional services to clients like Employment programs which train clients on skills that will help them find work.

“We offer training in different areas,” said Gilbert. “We offer training for commercial driver’s licenses, and even food-handlers licenses to help clients find work in the service industry.”

The nonprofit even offers assistance with food, including the pantry and kitchen programs.

The pantry program takes in donations and deliveries where they are stored in the organization’s headquarters for clients to pick up.

“Part of what our social workers do is to make a plan on how much the client’s family needs in groceries for the week, and we assist them from there,” said Gilbert.

The kitchen program runs on volunteers like Pye coming in on weekday mornings to prepare and serve meals for over 250 individuals.

“Whenever I donate my time or money, I have a strategy,” said Pye. “I focus on helping my community and helping the world.”

The team is made up of about 18 volunteers, a head chef and a sous chef, Annie Higdon, who oversees the prep and hands out meals to the community.

“It’s way more fun than a soup kitchen, I imagine,” said Higdon.

(Credit: Dani Cardenas)

The food made in the kitchen is made fresh and served hot to the people of Austin.

“We have pretty good food here,” said Higdon. “ to do any less would be a disservice to ourselves as cooks and volunteers. Doing our best every day just makes sense.”

Currently, the dining room is closed to the public because of COVID-19 protocols and serves as a packing station for the boxed meals. However beginning in January, the kitchen will reopen the dining hall once again and serve meals on plates, while keeping the boxed meal system in place for clients who prefer it.

The nonprofit holds two annual fundraisers including Songs for Hope, a concert at the Waterloo Greenway, and the recent Thundercloud Turkey Trot, where Austin families gathered for a five-mile run, and all proceeds went to Caritas to support their programs.

The program will continue to grow and look to the future as more buildings are being constructed for the homeless population, and more local volunteers look to get involved in their community.

“Volunteering at Caritas is me giving to my community and the people immediately closest to me,” said Pye.

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