Volunteer Spotlight on Leah Lucas

Austin Street Center is blessed to have hundreds of amazing volunteers who come together to serve men and women experiencing homelessness. We wanted to know more about them, so we’re introducing a series of Volunteer Spotlights. First up: Leah Lucas, a college student who wanted to spend her summer giving back to the community.

How long have you volunteered at Austin Street Center?
I started volunteering at ASC in June 2017.

How did you first get involved with ASC?
I knew I wanted to spend my summer home from school volunteering with a homeless ministry/non-profit. After doing some research I decided on ASC.

What was your first impression of ASC?
My first impression was that ASC really cares about the homeless. They want to do all they can to help this population.

What do you wish more people knew about homelessness?
I wish more people knew that people who are homeless don’t all fit the stereotypes that people assume about the homeless. The stereotype that homeless people made a bad decision, which caused them to be homeless is not true of every person. Sometimes life happens, they can’t afford rent, or the have medical issues that end up causing them to be homeless. Homeless people are just like you and me.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?
I think volunteering is a great way to give back. That was my main goal of volunteering was to give back, but something I learned was that I gain so much more than I give. Even if you just volunteer once a month, it’s a great way to give back to the community!

Tell us an interesting story from your time at ASC.
There are so many stories and friendships that I have gained from volunteering that it’s so hard to choose! One of my favorite moments that happened was on my second day of volunteering. I was working the front desk and ended up being the only one working. I was still learning everything, so I was a little overwhelmed. I had a client come up and ask if she could pray for me. Here I was supposed to be helping them, but she helped me remember why I was there!

What has been the most challenging part of volunteering at ASC?
One of the most challenging things that I have experienced is answering some of the calls ASC gets. Sometimes you get calls of people seeking shelter and they are sharing their whole story over the phone with you. It’s hard when they don’t meet the age limit or have children so ASC isn’t the best fit for them. After hearing their story you want to do everything to help them, but over the phone all you can really do is give them some other resources in the area.

Something that is hard personally is that you become attached to the clients. When they get housing and leave the shelter it’s sad not seeing them every day. But then you remember that they are no longer in the shelter, which is so great, which makes me so happy!

What has surprised you most about working with people experiencing homelessness?These people really are like you and me. You pass these people on the street and you think you are different than they are, but you’re not.

How has volunteering at ASC changed your views about homelessness?
Volunteering gave me an opportunity to put myself in their shoes. ASC made me realize the need for shelters and how much they help the homeless community!

What do you do when you aren’t volunteering?
I am a Ministry student at Hardin Simmons University. I volunteered this summer while I was home, and plan on volunteering when I come home during the holidays!

Do you want to get involved? Join us for Austin Street 101 on September 16 at 9am! 

Ending Homelessness Through Prevention

It’s easy to think that anyone who seeks services at a homeless shelter is actually homeless and in need of a safe place to stay for the night. However, according to Austin Street’s Executive Director Daniel Roby, that’s not always the case, “Sometimes people come to us in shock, having just been kicked out of their apartment. They often haven’t had the time to think through what other options might be available to them. They are just thinking, ‘I need shelter tonight.’”

According to Director of Programs Dustin Perkins, “Diversion allows us to have a comprehensive understanding of a person’s true needs. When you’re overwhelmed, when something traumatic has happened, sometimes it’s hard to see when you do really have options. We can help with that.” Citing statistics that show the best predictor of homelessness is whether or not a person has been homeless in the past, Dustin knows that preventing homelessness in the first place is a major step in ending homelessness altogether.

Dustin tells an example of just such an individual: “People can get ‘stuck’ in Dallas because it’s a transportation hub. A family member was supposed to wire money for the next leg of the trip and didn’t follow through, or you miss a connection and your ticket was nonrefundable. The other day a man came to us—he was on his way to Texarkana to stay with family, but couldn’t afford his bus ticket. For around $20 we were able to send him home, preventing him from ever becoming homeless in the first place.”

Austin Street’s diversion initiative is not about keeping folks out. More nights than not, we turn people away for lack of space—by ensuring whoever comes to our door is experiencing a true housing crisis, we are able to help more people, and prevent an individual from experiencing homelessness.

“The most important thing is empowering those who come to us for help,” says Dustin, “People are best able to resolve a housing crisis before it starts, so our role is to facilitate that person arriving at a solution before they ever become homeless.”

One of our most important roles is to be the bridge to solutions. With 1-2 people being diverted each week, Austin Street is able to help more people who are in need of the intensive case management and housing assistance we provide.

Seeking Shelter… Finding Family

In its second year, The Sisterhood program at Austin Street Center has become a mainstay of our guest services. For 32 women, it is the lifeline they need to change their lives and embrace a future free from trauma and homelessness.

The Sisterhood was developed to serve women who have experienced trauma that contributed to their becoming homeless or who have experienced homelessness for an extended period of time. Program manager Monica McGee says the first place to start with helping traumatized women begin to heal is by developing trust. “The women who are being victimized—the people who violate them are also the people who protect them. That’s where the distrust comes in. They don’t trust you. They tell you, ‘everyone who said they’re going to help me, they hurt me.’”

When a woman enters the Sisterhood, Monica’s first order of business is to build rapport. She understands why they don’t trust her right away because she was there too, having experienced homelessness herself over 20 years ago. Monica spends a lot of time with Sisterhood participants, making sure they know that she is available to them. “I never say, ‘no, I can’t talk to you.’ Saying no just shuts down someone who has experienced trauma. I always look them in the face and say, ‘if you can wait a minute, I’ll get with you. I’m straightforward and consistent, and eventually I can tell when they’ve started to trust me.”

Getting them to talk about their trauma is the next step. By providing a safe place to begin to open up, the Sisterhood sets the stage for deep healing. . Some women prefer to journal or express themselves artistically, but the important thing is that they begin to process their pain so they can start to release it.

“When someone is ready to change, you can see it in everything they do—the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they interact with others. They start caring for themselves more. Like they’re starting to believe they’re worth it. I don’t think there’s anything greater than watching someone grow and change and start to want another type of life,” says Monica.

When that desire for change occurs, Monica starts working with them on accountability and responsibility to oneself, to each other, and to the community. This is when the true sisterhood emerges, as women begin to trust each other and start opening up during group discussions. Recently Monica started a new, informal series of hangout groups to give the women more chances to develop the kinds of relationships that support their transformation.

Frequently graduates of the program come back to speak to the current group, or just to sit in when they need some encouragement. Many women have moved out into their own apartments and are doing well on their own.

What is the ultimate goal? To quote Monica, “It’s all about empowerment, change, and confidence to live their new life.”