In the blistering hot, drought-ridden summer of 2011, I relocated from New York City to Austin, Texas. In New York, I had worked as the Director of Social Services at a municipal homeless shelter that housed 202 single male substance abusers. There was never a dull moment in that job! The shelter provided basic needs to 202 single men, and was much appreciated.
I learned, however, in my time there, that a shelter cannot be a home, and what these men needed most was permanent supportive housing. Although we worked hard to fight it, the shelter was unsafe at times, residents’ property was stolen, there were fights and I often saw unhealthy power dynamics between residents and our security guards. One time a resident’s cell phone was stolen. Upon discovering this, he walked into the cafeteria and announced that if the thief did not produce his cell phone by the time he counted to ten, he would throw a chair through the television set. He proceeded to count to ten and then threw the chair through the television set. The six story building was Spartan, and although it was much less crowded than shelters in Texas, for most residents, living with 201 other roommates was a little too close for comfort. In summary, the shelter was an institution, it was not a home—and it cost TWICE as much to house people there as it would to place them in permanent supportive housing. It seemed like a no-brainer to me.
When I moved to Austin, I looked for work again with the homeless, but Texas does not have a fraction of the funding New York has for this population, and I was unable to find anything. Instead I started a job at The Arc of Texas, a nonprofit that does statewide advocacy for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In this position I’ve served a population that, like the homeless, needs people to serve as advocates. The one major difference in the disability world is that capable, powerful people will always be involved in this advocacy, not because they volunteer for it, or are paid for it, but because they are drafted into it. Having a child born with a disability can happen to a wealthy attorney as easily as it can happen to a poor single mother living on welfare. The disability world will always have powerful advocates because they are advocating for their own family members. The world of the homeless is not that privileged.
A year after moving to Austin, I decided I should join a board of directors for a nonprofit organization. I felt that my leadership skills and experience could benefit Austin and those I served by volunteering in this manner much more so than serving sandwiches at a soup kitchen. I attended the Greenlights Board Summit in June of 2012 and met two of Green Doors’ board members. I had first heard of Green Doors from a woman who teaches social enterprise at The University of Texas and spoke very highly of them. She said they were one of the most effective, entrepreneurial nonprofits she knew of in Austin. I did look at a couple of other boards but landed on Green Doors due to the fact I knew they were a healthy organization that was providing a much needed service to the homeless and those in danger of losing their homes. This lined up with my passion and experience.
In September of 2012 I was sworn in as a board member. I have greatly enjoyed being involved in the dialogue of where Green Doors is going as an organization. In their housing communities, Green Doors provides permanent supportive housing – a home – to people who need it. They link housing and services to break the cycle of homelessness and help the people they serve become as self-sufficient as they can be.
As a board member, I volunteered to host a Competitive Trivia Night fundraiser for Green Doors in April of this year, an event I had hosted for The Arc last year. The event was a great success. It was held at South Austin Brewing Company and attended by about 80 people. Gift certificates and other items were donated by various Austin businesses and sold by silent auction. One of the employees of a Violet Crown, asked to not only donate theater tickets, but to volunteer her time as well. People who came to Trivia Night had a ton of fun, the brewery wants to host it again next year, participants learned about homelessness (all of the trivia questions addressed this issue in some form), and we earned over $4,000. Most importantly, participants learned about Green Doors’ mission and how they could partner in that.
Although I was unable to work with a nonprofit serving the homeless in Austin, I have been able to serve on the board of a great organization who is doing just that. I believe in Green Doors’ mission and feel truly blessed to have been able to partner together with them in serving those in need of a permanent housing and a home.