Story by Mary Martin. Photos courtesy of Austin Street Center.
If you stand at the entrance of the Austin Street chapel, with its bell house and Spanish tile roof, and look out across the street, you will see the future home of the Austin Street Center for Community Engagement. This brand new, 60,000 square foot campus will not only provide the much needed space for Dallasites who are making the transition from homelessness to permanent housing, but will also create space for expanded holistic programs like medical respite care, mental health care, and personalized case management for job and housing assistance. With just $3 million left to raise in order to meet their $15 million capital campaign goal, the Austin Street team is planning a groundbreaking at the end of 2020, and to open brand new doors at the beginning of 2022.
At the age of seven, Daniel Roby first volunteered at Austin Street Center, an organization founded in 1983 to meet the basic needs of people facing homelessness. “I grew up here in Dallas in a socially conscious family that was focused on volunteering,” says Daniel. “The seeds of of service, being kind, and caring for others were planted at that early age and they grew over time. I think I wasn’t able to rationalize or connect why some people experienced significant and abject poverty, while others did not. And it didn’t appear to me, at least as a young person, that it was based upon people’s moral decisions, it didn’t appear to be based upon something that somebody did. And so, that inability to reconcile, that some people experienced such significant suffering, while others experienced such significant opportunity and blessing, made me wonder why aren’t we doing more.”
In high school and college, Daniel began putting his questions into action, serving with Rip Parker and the Park Cities Baptist homeless ministry, as well as Mission Waco during his time at Baylor University. “I actually lived in a four bedroom house with twelve male roommates during college, and then we invited two homeless guys to come live with us and sleep on the couch. We had a 50% success rate from that,” Daniel says with a laugh. “But I learned from that trial and error, and we were just trying to do the best that we could to reach the community.”
As CEO at Austin Street, Daniel has spent the past five and half years doing just that. By surrounding himself with a team of compassionate experts and a wide range of community partners, the organization is now the largest low-barrier shelter in Dallas, serving men, ages 45 and older, and women, ages 18 and older. With some job placement, mental health, and housing assistance programs already in place, Austin Street’s client volume has increased nearly three-fold in the past five years, and in the past fiscal year more than 214 of their clients have found a permanent home with Austin Street’s support.
The new Community Engagement Center is designed to meet the expansive need for wrap-around services in North Texas. “Dallas has a housing crisis with a general increase in homelessness and a 725 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness since 2009,” said Nancy Best, chairman of Austin Street Center’s Board of Trustees. “This new facility will further Austin Street Center’s legacy of care and provide clients with the resources they need from medical respite and mental health care, to employment services, safe shelter and a nutritious meal. Together these services are geared to help them transition out of homelessness and into a home of their own.”
A major program expansion in the new Community Engagement Center is the medical respite program, created with Texas Health Resources, Dallas. When clients and people without homes are discharged from an area hospital, the Austin Street medical respite program will provide a safe place that is fully equipped to handle ongoing medical care and healing. “Essentially, hospitals provide the medical care and then they discharge people with the intention that they’re able to receive care in their home,” explains Daniel. “But if you don’t have a home, it can be challenging from a hospital and patient perspective. So we found a gap right in between what the hospitals are designed for and what someone needs in a home that’s not available for someone who’s homeless.” By partnering with Texas Health to provide skilled nurse staffing for this new program, Austin Street hopes to reduce the recidivism of people who are homeless returning again and again to the hospital for the same health issues.
Mental health services will also expand, as Austin Street continues its partnership with IPS Recovery, and ensuring that case managers are working closely with each client to meet their unique needs. “We’re not just addressing this in a piecemeal fashion, but really saying what is the holistic need for this individual experiencing homelessness, knowing there are comorbidities and complex medical and mental health needs,” Daniel says. “And we are addressing the full spectrum, so that when people are placed in new housing, they have ongoing care. Right now we’re seeing between 85-95% of people that we place in housing remain in housing after about six months, but we’d like to see that number go up even further. We need to ensure there is a continuity of care for people after we transition them out of homelessness.”
The Community Engagement Center project will also continue a legacy in its construction. The Beck Group is leading the design-build team, while remembering the determination of the late Henry C. Beck Jr. who helped to found Austin Street more than 37 years ago. And Daniel is continuing that determination even in the face of a global pandemic. “I’m so proud of our team. They’ve been amazing and resilient in the face of COVID,” says Daniel. “And our clients have been outstanding. I’m telling you, these people know how to socially distance and how to wear their masks. They care about their health and care about their community. I’m inspired by our clients in the way that they make sure to take care of one another. And I know people have all the different kinds of opinions about it, but it’s been wonderful to see them take care of one another and support one another through this process.”
If you would like to support Austin Street Center, you can contribute to the Help Them Home campaign as they raise the remaining funds needed to build the Community Engagement Center. You can also find out about current volunteer openings at austinstreet.org.