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How Caritas Fights Food Insecurity

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Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn shares how Caritas of Austin works tirelessly to house and feed those most in need in Austin while creating a more vibrant and strong community.

Photo courtesy of Caritas of Austin 

Where I was raised, in small-town Louisiana, there was no such thing as homelessness. If there was, the rest of us in the tiny community didn’t see any sign of it. Not until I went to New York City in the late 1970s did I encounter someone living on the streets. I was appalled and shocked. How in our wealthy, First World country could people have nowhere to live? I felt called to act and devoted much of my life since working to end homelessness.

At Caritas of Austin, we serve people without a stable place to call home. Prevailing research shows permanent housing, not merely shelters, provides the best exit from life on the streets to a life that supports well-being. We work with property owners throughout Austin to provide housing for clients so they feel integrated into the community rather than segregated into housing that sets them apart from other Austin residents. 

Last year, we housed nearly 600 individuals and families. Ninety-seven percent of those served in our Supportive Housing program remain housed, even after years of living on the streets.

Of course, homelessness exacts harsh consequences to one’s physical safety, mental health and sense of community. Those surviving without a home also face a constant struggle with food insecurity. How and where will they find their next meal? 

In our effort to build well-being in a holistic way, we offer several programs to address the hunger brought about by homelessness. In our Caritas Community Kitchen, we serve hot, healthy lunches to 200 people five days a week. Our guests are welcomed on a no-questions-asked basis. Kindness is our first order of business, and our volunteers are trained to cultivate this culture first and foremost. 

Our clients appreciate the meals, but more so, the sense of community and togetherness of joining others around a table. They tell us they’re refreshed not only by the nourishment of each meal, but also by the safety and respect they experience. They get a needed break from the weather and lack of comfort they experience on the streets. They feel human again. 

For our clients who have been placed in safe housing, our food pantry allows individuals and families to gather the ingredients they need to make the meals they want to eat. While there are some reasonable limits on the amount of food available to each client, we place no restrictions on what our clients can and can’t bring home with them. 

We also work with other food-support organizations in Austin to ensure our clients have adequate access and resources. We are conscientious about the services we offer, making sure we aren’t duplicating the work of other organizations, instead, filling the gaps and addressing real needs in the community. 

Eradicating homelessness is not merely about placing people in homes and apartments. We understand our clients want to reach their full potential, which of- ten includes gaining access to education, career guidance, mental health care and, of course, sustainable and healthy meals to keep fed, energized and active. 

Next month, we honor Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 10 through 18), a time to turn even greater attention to the conditions and policies that impact access to housing and employment. Living in a safe home, in my view, is a basic human right. In the U.S., we have all the research, intelligence and resources needed to combat this problem in a meaningful and lasting way. Yet the problem persists. We still have more work to do. Thankfully, the City of Austin has made this issue a priority in policy and funding considerations. 

The name of our organization, Caritas, means love and charity in Latin. Showing love and kindness to our neighbors is the greatest gift we can offer. We invite anyone interested in serving with us to end homelessness to connect with Caritas of Austin. You can find us at caritasofaustin.org. 

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