AUSTIN, Texas — The reinstatement of the camping ban is inspiring some Central Texans to try to find new ways to help the city's unhoused population. The nonprofit Humanize Austin aims to combine technology with kindness by creating online profiles for people living on the streets.
"We want to humanize, as the name implies, and help understand or help the community understand that these are human beings just like you," said Dusty Monroe, Humanize Austin's president and founder. "We put together kind of nice, heartwarming stories about where they come from, their family, their aspirations, their goals, their skills."
Humanize Austin gave out QR codes on poster boards or business cards to its clients. Right now, the nonprofit has three clients. Their profiles can be viewed when phone cameras scan the QR codes.
"I'm a people person. I like to talk, and I read people before I get my cards out," said Kenneth Orlando Trotter, a Humanize Austin client. "I wanted to save somebody else's life."
According to Trotter's Humanize Austin profile, he was raised in a poor household with no father and was addicted to drugs for many years. He told KVUE that he is sober now and vows to never do drugs ever again.
Right now, Trotter said he stays at the Salvation Army shelter and he has experienced homelessness for a little over a year.
Trotter said he recently got a job and he's saving money to reunite with his mother, who he hasn't seen in almost 20 years. He said the donations he needs would go toward a down payment for an apartment, weekly food, new clothes for an interview and tuition assistance because he wants to become a youth drug counselor.
"What Humanize Austin does is we don't actually distribute funds directly to our participants. Instead, we use the funds that are donated from the community to purchase items that are identified as a 'needs list' when we first onboard that participant," Monroe said. "In the case of Kenneth, one of our most recent clients, we actually went with him. We wanted to enjoy the experience together. We went to Ross. We had a budget based on how much he got. He needed new shoes, new clothes and things like that for church and job interviews. We actually just went with them and swiped our company card at the end of the visit and took track of it."
You can read Trotter's full story here.
"One of the biggest barriers to a community member giving a donation to someone who [is] experiencing homelessness is that they're not sure where that money is going to go," Monroe said. "There's also an area where you can leave comments. And so, some of our folks get really nice comments from members of the community as well."
"I'm just staying positive and moving forward," Trotter said.
Monroe said he launched the nonprofit in the fall of 2020.
"It's kind of the perfect timing to say, 'How can we leverage technology, the signs that folks already use, to really get the homeless connected with community?'" Monroe said.
Monroe said they're still figuring out how to get clients since the nonprofit is new, but right now, they're working with social service organizations like the Salvation Army and Downtown Austin Community Court to get them on board and help distribute fliers.
"Whether or not folks agree with the camping ban or not, one thing that I do think it helped the city with is it really put a spotlight on how many people are experiencing homelessness," Monroe said. "For me, I'm a citizen of Austin. I'm a homeowner. I want my city to be happy. I want to be healthy. I want the people in it to be happy and safe."
Monroe said Humanize Austin has a volunteer board of seven people and they have a list of volunteers who have reached out to them for different positions. Due to health issues, Monroe is going to step down as lead volunteer, and Humanize Austin is looking for someone new to lead the nonprofit.
"It's been challenging, and I've really been trying to focus on myself and my own health. I am looking for someone to kind of take over the lead," Monroe said. "We can work together on it but, at the same time, we are actively working with the City on identifying funding to hire a full-time executive director – which I think would really help us scale to the 50 or so participants we're hoping to have by the end of the year."
If you want to contact Humanize Austin, you can call 512-537-4879.
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