More than eight months into the pandemic, area homeless shelters report fewer beds and volunteers due to social distancing protocols. But their clientele remains in need, so their staff have come up with new solutions, from using QR codes for donations to Thanksgiving sack meals.
With everyone being advised to limit interactions this Thanksgiving, Austonia takes a look at how Austin's shelters are coping with COVID.
Fewer shelter beds and volunteers
Jason Whaley, communication manager for Austin's Salvation Army, said the pandemic has made their shelter space scarce.
"We had to reduce our overall shelter capacity just based off CDC guidelines," he said. "You know, we've made beds, separated them into over six feet apart."
But the changes have been effective.
"Now fortunately we have not had to deal with a COVID outbreak at any of our shelters so that's a very good thing, and I believe that the protocols had a lot to do with that," he said.
That said, implementing safety procedures has cut down the number of badly needed volunteers.
"It certainly reduces the amount of volunteers we can actually have in the warehouse so we are most certainly cutting back in terms of just the amount of people for safety reasons," Whaley said, adding that this year those iconic red Salvation Army donation kettles will include QR codes, "so the people don't actually have to touch cash or touch the kettles."
A move from downtown
Monte Osburn, the executive director of The Foundation for the Homeless, said the pandemic has affected every aspect of his organization but especially its Feed My People program, which serves free breakfast every Tuesday and Thursday in downtown Austin.
"We would serve somewhere between four and six hundred per breakfast before COVID, and now it's down to maybe a hundred, 150, just because the population experiencing homelessness and needing that breakfast have kind of moved away from downtown into some other areas," he said.
Elaborating on the importance of the socializing aspect of the Feed My People program, Osburn said: "One of the draws for our clients to come in to have these breakfasts, it's not so much of the food, which is one type of sustenance, but they miss that connection with someone that they can speak to and just sit for a while and have a conversation with somebody rather than just surviving."
Volunteering at the foundation has been curbed significantly as well, as at other local organizations. But Osburn stressed that there are other ways to help beyond volunteering, including donating money and items such as masks and travel-sized personal hygiene products.
Another option: "Just becoming more knowledgeable about the issue," she said.
Amy Price, of Austin's Front Steps, said that another way to help the local homeless population is to donate a blanket through the organization's annual winter drive.
"Every year as winter arrives, there is a steady demand for blankets," she said. "We distribute blankets to shelter clients, individuals (who are) unsheltered and living in camps and outside places, and through the other nonprofits who work with people experiencing homelessness."
The goal this year is to get 1,300 blankets, and as Price explains, "We really need specific blankets, because the size and what the blankets are made of matters so much."
After taking some time to talk to clients and staff, Front Steps learned which blankets worked best and what blankets did not work at all.
"Wool blankets are a no-go, because most people living rough have skin damage and the wool is terribly irritating to wind- (and) sun-burned skin. Cotton blankets are a no-go because they soak up moisture from dew, rain (and) sleet and they become too heavy to carry and there is no way to dry them. Small blankets don't keep out the wind and cold," she said. "Our clients are adult men, and they know those small fleeces won't keep them warm." The blankets to donate to Front Steps should be twin- or full-sized.
Antwon R. Martin, of the SAFE Alliance, an organization which offers shelter and housing as well as counseling for at risk individuals, says the pandemic has increased the number of people seeking shelter from abuse. "There are more people coming to SAFE for support, but the amount of shelter space we have, as always, is extremely limited," says Martin.
Due to the pandemic, volunteers are down and even basic fundraising has become a problem for the organization.
"Because of COVID-19, we couldn't hold our big fundraising events in person this year," Martin said. "Our annual gala raises more than $1 million each year, but we had to convert it to a digital event, which raised about $620,000. So we're doing everything we can to provide a high level of support to survivors of violence and abuse while finding ways to offset the decrease in donations."
The pandemic, with its shelter-in-place strictures, has made it particularly difficult for individuals who are risking abuse by simply staying at home.
"For many, home isn't a safe place," says Martin. "When someone is isolating inside a home with a partner or caregiver who uses abuse, the chance to reach out for support may never happen."
Alan Graham, the founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, is used to organizing a big Thanksgiving meal in downtown Austin, but this year things will be different.
"We're doing it outside, and we'll end up making some simple sack meals that people can come and pick up and take away," he said. "So the intimacy of what we do has got to be postponed for this year and hopefully we'll be back next year."
For Graham, whose organization not only brings out food to people daily but also runs Community First Village in far East Austin, the communal aspect is key to his work.
"Our belief in what homelessness is is not that you're without a house," he said. "We believe that housing is important, we believe housing is necessary but it is still insufficient as far as what the human person needs. And we have a saying at Mobile Loaves & Fishes that housing will never solve homelessness but community will."
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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
.@MLS Commissioner @thesoccerdon and @AustinFC's Minister of Culture and part-owner Matthew @McConaughey will discuss how the League is deepening fan engagement, and how Clubs are becoming cultural mainstays at 10am on Channel 3. ⚽ #SXSW pic.twitter.com/2XFj4XEdwL
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 18, 2021
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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