December 3, 2020
Everyone deserves a place to call home. It is a simple concept, but one that offers a powerful transformation for those experiencing homelessness. To LifeWorks in Austin, this concept grounds their purpose. As fearless advocates for families on their way to self-sufficiency, LifeWorks is working to end youth homelessness and over the last two years they have helped 650 youth.
Their program centers around three types of support. First, they divert people from homelessness by providing housing and meeting the needs of youth. Second, they help with workforce training and secondary education, so that the youth they serve can have a chance to learn and work. Third, they provide mental health programs and a healing centered environment, so the youth they are reaching have a chance to find healing from past trauma. With these three areas of focus, LifeWorks believes they can make youth homelessness rare, brief, and non-reoccurring.
While their programming has been effective, homelessness is a pervasive problem in Austin even in a normal year and 2020 has been anything but normal.
As the pandemic was starting to ramp up in the United States, LifeWorks staff implemented telehealth options for their mental health services. Since they had already invested in the technology, it was an easy switch. Other shifts were more difficult. The staff realized that the pandemic would have prolonged impacts, thus they would be supporting homeless youth for longer than normal. While they were able to keep their Youth Resource Center open, they had to move to a space twice as large, use PPE, and limit the number of people who could occupy the space. The purpose of their Youth Resource Center became serving actively homeless youth and providing crisis support for youth in that position. They began offering GED courses, life skills classes, and workforce assistance programs virtually. Additionally, they were assisting with rent and utility costs, so families were not being evicted.
All of the issues of the year – political tension, racial tension, and economic woes on top of the pandemic – had a negative impact on youth. The situation for many families was changing from week-to-week, making the staff’s work all the more difficult and even more critical to do with excellence.
“When the pandemic hit, our world was plunged into an unprecedented level of uncertainty. It immediately destabilized communities, especially the most vulnerable,” LifeWorks CEO Susan McDowell shared. “The TMF grant funds came at just the right time. We have a number of grants that are part of public funding and those grants are not very flexible. TMF’s funds helped us meet needs that arose in the moment. It filled a gap that other funding could not.”
So far this year, LifeWorks has served nearly 3,100 youth. Their quick thinking to utilize technology to implement telehealth services provided hope to those who needed it. Their practical decision to expand the space for their Youth Resource Center has ensured their programming continues reaching youth in the safest way possible, and their creative use of funding has empowered them to further their mission. In spite of all the challenges 2020 has brought, LifeWorks is still making a place called home a reality to those who need it.