What is LifeWorks and How Does the Program Impact Austin?

What is LifeWorks and How Does the Program Impact Austin?

Understanding UCC’s Continued Service to the Street Youth of Our City

For decades, homeless young people have been attracted to the University of Texas (UT) environment, especially along Guadalupe Street, an area long known as “The Drag”.  They form the lowest socio-economic caste in our neighborhood, sometimes referenced with such derogatory names as “drag worms.”

We prefer the term “street youth.” These young people became a specific outreach target of University Christian Church (UCC) when Micah 6 (founded in 2004 by UCC and eight other UT-area congregations) opened its Street Youth Drop-In Center (SYDIC) in January 2012.

After a few years of the SYDIC being open every Sunday– providing meals, computer use, games and a comfortable place to spend the afternoon – UCC made the decision to go a step further with our commitment and involvement. We wanted to invest in programs with the goal of helping homeless youth get off the street and find paths to sustainable independence, including places to live, jobs, education, and more.

The Creation of One Life at a Time

By January 2016, we started a pilot program called One Life at a Time, complete with hiring our own social worker to provide case management services to individuals attending the SYDIC.  This program was enabled by UCC’s newly created Mission Fund, a crucial decision by the UCC board to dedicate the lion’s share of a generous donation from the Nordan Family to outreach missions in our community rather than allowing this wealth to be used for church operations and maintenance.

That first social worker stayed with us for less than a year, but we learned a lot during that time.  While we had some successes, we found that it was exceedingly difficult to maintain relationships and provide an adequate range of services with a one-person office.  In the fall of 2016, we folded One Life at a Time and instead formed a partnership with LifeWorks of Austin, a well-established non-profit that we knew was highly effective in getting young people off the street.

What is LifeWorks of Austin?

LifeWorks offers the most comprehensive array of services to street youth in Austin, while also reaching the greatest number of individuals in that population. Many of our youngest visitors at the SYDIC were LifeWorks clients, and the main reason we started One Life at a Time is that we felt the Lifeworks’ client age limit had been too low. Thanks to our agreement with LifeWorks, we were able to increase the age limit by three years to 26.

In fact, LifeWorks credits UCC with saving their Street Outreach Program at precisely the time when they lost a critical federal grant. With UCC’s funding, organizational streamlining, consolidating locations, and other efficiencies, the Street Outreach Program emerged stronger and more effective than before. It is the only program of its kind in Austin serving individuals ages 10- 26. Its goal is to provide youth with the services and support they need to transition to safe housing, become self-sufficient, and lead healthy productive lives.

What Does LifeWorks Do for the Street Youth of Austin?

The Street Outreach program provides a range of crucial services to street youth throughout the greater UT campus area and beyond:

  • Street outreach and engagement
  • Gateway services: hot meals, food pantry, clothing, hygiene, bus passes
  • Individualized services: any service requiring financial assistance or spending at least 30 minutes of one-on-one time with staff
  • Long-term case management
  • Access to medical services and dental services
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Social and emotional learning groups
  • Access to education and workforce development
  • Referrals to shelter and permanent housing

In addition to extensive relationships with landlords in the Austin community, LifeWorks has 44 of its own apartments on its Springdale Road campus and is constructing 29 new units.

To increase the effectiveness of the program, LifeWorks recently combined the Street Outreach and Rapid Rehousing programs. Together, they provide case management and housing to dozens of homeless youth each year and other services to scores more.

How Does UCC Help LifeWorks?

The LifeWorks fiscal year begins October 1 of each year. While UCC provided $85,000 in funding during 2016-17 and increased funding to $105,000 this current 2017-18 fiscal year, we will decrease our financial support next year to $96,500 as LifeWorks has regained government funding. UCC consistently provides for a full-time case manager (social worker) plus partial funding for another case manager, benefits and indirect costs, and direct assistance to clients. LifeWorks also maintains a storeroom in our basement for “move-in” supplies for LifeWorks clients as they occupy apartments for the first time.

We also provide additional support in other ways. This last December, our “Giving Tree” in the narthex brought in 65 extremely useful new gifts, including dish sets, cooking pan sets, cutlery sets, drinking glass sets, toaster ovens, microwaves, towels, sheet sets, and comforters. Almost all of these items were used when LifeWorks placed clients in housing this past year, and we plan another gift drive this summer.

LifeWorks Works

One story: Seamus and Sean

LifeWorks often sees siblings come through the program at various times.  Some youth report that their families push them out of the home when they turn 18 to prioritize limited resources for younger siblings.

Seamus (19) and Sean (21) – not their real names – are brothers who came to LifeWorks separately but were both experiencing homelessness.  Agency staff referred Seamus to LifeWork’s Transitional Living Program in 2017 where he was sheltered for a year, but he craved more independence than a group living facility could provide and decided to stay with friends, hopping from couch to couch. Sean was camping in a wooded area near a shopping center. Seamus and Sean were both linked to our Workforce Development program through Street Outreach case manager, Nicole, and they are now employed full-time.

Nicole helped the brothers locate an affordable apartment, but the landlord told her at 2 pm on a Friday that they needed to have a deposit and first month’s rent by the next day in order to sign the lease or the unit would be released. Normally it takes a full week to issue a check, but Nicole worked quickly to gather the necessary documents from the complex and advocated with the LifeWorks finance department to get a check issued and delivered by the close of the business day.

Although the boys didn’t have any furniture over the weekend, she was able to secure furniture and have it delivered on Monday. She is now working with them to establish a roommate agreement in which they will determine what their expectations are for cleanliness, company, sharing food or other items, and how they will handle issues when they arise. This kind of planning teaches valuable life skills that many street youth have never had modeled to them before.

Learn More About LifeWorks

LifeWorks provides quarterly reports to the UCC Board that are available to UCC members by request. With a simple e-mail sent to scraigbell@aol.com, you can view reports that explain in more detail the goals and programs of this organization and the metrics used to measure performance, as well as an inspiring narrative or two describing the progress of selected clients. For information on how you can get involved with LifeWorks, email www.lifeworksaustin.org or email volunteer@lifeworksaustin.org.