Submitted by: Greg Siems, Vision 2020 Director
AUSTIN — The Austin Poverty Task Force is planning a one-day event to help people struggling with homelessness and poverty.
Community Connect will offer access to resources for those struggling financially. Service agencies, businesses and faith-based organizations are invited to partner with the Austin Poverty Task Force to promote their services in a centralized location.
The event is set for Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hastings Gymnasium in Austin High School.
Task force co-chairmen Greg Siems of Vision 2020 and Richard Lemons of the Human Rights Commission met regularly with about 10 others to plan the event they hope will instill “hope and connectedness.”
“Poverty can be a very isolating experience, and it isn’t always obvious where to look for help or whom to go to,” Siems said. “We want to help promote the services that can help people right now, and to learn more about other ways we might be able give people a hand up out of poverty.”
This is the first Community Connect event in Austin. Similar events have been conducted in Rochester, Mankato, Red Wing and Wabasha.
Other events have offered attendees free lunch, groceries to take home, clothing, haircuts and photos. The Austin organizers are hoping to provide similar services.
“It’s a proven model that gets a lot of people engaged, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and hopefully it is just the beginning of many more activities that help raise awareness of the issue of poverty in Austin,” Siems said.
A big disconnect
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data around 4,000 of Austin’s 24,000 residents live below the federal poverty line of $24,600 for a family of four.
But Lemons argued that the cost of living in Austin is much higher. An independent organization determined that a livable income for a family of four in Austin was just less than $60,000.
“There is clearly a big disconnect between the federal poverty lines and what it takes to effectively support individuals or families,” Lemons said.
The Austin Poverty Task Force grew from the city’s 2016 cohort in the Blandin Community Leadership Program. The committee was encouraged to select an issue vital for improving community health, Siems said.
“Many of us know that poverty is a growing concern in Austin,” he said. “And we wanted to do something about it. Anyone who is concerned about the issue of poverty is welcome to be a part of our work.”
Austin Poverty Task Force members have planned Community Connect with the expectation it would become an annual event.
“By bringing together as many agencies and organizations as possible, we hope to provide those who are struggling financially with awareness and easy access to those who are providing services within our community,” Lemons said.