COVID-19’s Impact on Austin’s Homeless: How You Can Help
Photo Credit: Gabby Belzer, Daily Texan Staff.

COVID-19’s Impact on Austin’s Homeless: How You Can Help

Amidst all the public panic, quarantining, lockdowns, school closures, and deaths across the nation and the world, it’s important to reflect on how COVID-19 will affect our city’s most vulnerable population. 

In terms of slowing the spread of COVID-19, the advice from medical practitioners, the federal government, and the World Health Organization has been to “Do the 5”: wash your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face, practice social distancing, and stay at home.

This is all well and good if you have a home and easy access to hygiene products, but what if you don’t?

Look no further than the more than 2,200 homeless people living in Austin, 1,169 of whom are unsheltered.

As a group that lacks the stability of permanent housing, our homeless population relies on shelters, various other nonprofits, and public spaces to meet basic needs, such as water, food, sanitization, and protection from the elements.

But now, as public libraries shut down and homeless shelters like ARCH make the difficult decision of closing resources to people who are not regular clients, an already vulnerable population is losing access to the vital services they especially need right now.

Unfortunately, homeless people, who typically have underlying health issues, are arguably at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19, which has proven fatal to the elderly and immunodeficient

Considering that the flu season in the past has been particularly deadly for the homeless at least in other parts of the country (often due to overcrowding in shelters), there are two possible scenarios for Austin’s homeless population:

  • Scenario 1: A reduction in services provided by shelters is followed by no mass COVID-19 cases among the homeless, but many others lose out on basic needs.
  • Scenario 2: A reduction in services provided by shelters does not prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless AND many unsheltered people lose out on basic needs.

In either case, shelters and nonprofits will need substantial resources (money and supplies) to accommodate the needs of Austin’s homeless population. 

In a situation where the spread is averted (scenario 1) , organizations like The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF) will still need to go on outreach missions to deliver food, clothing, and hygiene products to the homeless on the streets or in the forests.

Meanwhile, in scenario 2 (probably the worst case situation), homeless organizations will need sanitizer, soap, disposable gloves, masks, toilet paper, and more to slow the spread of COVID-19, not to mention maintaining outreach missions to those who are unsheltered.

So what can Austinites do right now to help the homeless prepare for both outcomes?

For the time being, the best thing you can do is DONATE to organizations that help the homeless. 

Below is a list of such organizations, compiled by The Austin Chronicle’s Austin Sanders, that covers what and how to give.

Remember to donate sensibly: as ARCH rightly points out, buying loads of hand sanitizer, masks, and toilet paper to donate will only divert supplies from health care providers, who are in the greatest need for such goods. A good rule of thumb is to make monetary donations whenever possible and give supplies within reason.

Please, share this or the Chronicle’s article with as many people as you know.

As the magnitude of COVID-19 remains uncertain, service providers are shut off, and the economy takes a turn for the worse, those experiencing homelessness need our compassion, solidarity, and thoughtful giving.

ECHO is the lead agency helping to end homelessness in the Austin-Travis County. Donations given to them can be distributed to the other organizations listed below, so they are a good central repository for giving. Their number one need is cash donations.

  • Donate
  • hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, wet wipes, tissues
  • food bars and socks
  • tents (to help with social distancing)
  • flyers that communicate good hygiene and basic services
  • masks and protective gear for clinicians

ECHO staff are still working out the best way for items to be delivered.

Integral Care (IC) provides essential outreach to people experiencing homelessness, including supplies and medical care. They have been distributing “hygiene kits” to people without homes, but have run out of supplies for them and are in need of:

  • small hand sanitizer or sanitizer
  • bar of soap or small liquid
  • soft toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • packages of tissues
  • gallon-size reusable, sealable plastic bags for the kits

Additionally, IC is in need of:

  • bottled water
  • packaged food items such as granola bars

Ship or deliver items to: 1430 Collier Street, Austin, TX 78704.

Or, donate.

The Salvation Army operates three shelters in Austin: one Downtown open only to men; a women and children’s shelter in East Austin; and a family shelter in East Austin. Their needs include:

Items can be shipped or delivered in-person to the Salvation Army Austin’s administration office at 4700 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78723.

Caritas of Austin provides critical services to people exiting homelessness such as financial assistance, workforce training, and access to healthy foods.

Shipments or in-person deliveries are accepted at the downtown office and Community Kitchen at 611 Neches St, Austin, TX 78701. If you choose the in-person option, people can drive-up to the loading/unloading dock on 7th St. and call 512/479-4610. A staffer will come out and pick up the donations.

The ARCH is Austin’s primary shelter, and is located Downtown. Their day center is currently closed to help slow spread of the virus, and they are most in need of the donations that will help them stay open: financial support and protective gear for staff.

  • Donate
  • hand sanitizer
  • sanitary wipes
  • masks

Like the ARCH, Trinity Center’s Downtown day center is currently closed, but they are still handing out food on weekdays (breakfast at 9am and a snack and water bottle at 10am). People receiving their mail at the center can continue checking in weekdays from 8:30am-2pm.

  • Donate
  • Mail checks to: 304 E. 7th Street, Austin TX, 78701

TOOF helps connect people experiencing homelessness with work, a need that will be even greater as the economic toll of the pandemic spreads.

In-person deliveries are accepted weekdays from 9am-5pm at 7815 Highway 290 W, Austin, TX 78736.

LifeWorks serves youth experiencing homelessness in Austin. Donations of the below items will primarily be used by the Street Outreach Team, emergency shelters, and the youth resource center. All donations must come in new, unopened packages.

  • Donate
  • camping tents
  • throw blankets
  • hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes or alcohol swabs
  • disposable gloves
  • paper towels
  • facial tissue
  • antibacterial soap
  • forehead thermometers or strips
  • grocery store gift cards

In-person drop-offs will be accepted weekdays from 11am-1pm at 835 N. Pleasant Valley Road.

MLF operates the Community First! Village in eastern Travis County. Much of their operation depends on volunteer support, but given the need for social distancing measures, that volunteer capacity has diminished. For now, monetary contributions are the best way to help.

Casa Marianella helps displaced immigrants become self-sufficient by providing housing, ESL classes, legal assistance, and medical care. Many Casa Marianella residents have children, and their requested donation items reflect that need.

  • Donate
  • Email for access to Amazon wish list and grocery needs
  • Email to inquire about helping a family who has recently left shelter by providing groceries or food
  • thermometers
  • paper eating supplies
  • bleach
  • Lysol wipes
  • Lysol
  • hand sanitizer
  • face masks
  • toilet paper
  • paper towels
  • OTC Medications

Donations can be shipped to or dropped off at 821 Gunter Street, Austin, TX 78702

SAFE Austin provides shelter, housing, legal services, and a multitude of other assistance to people of all genders, age, status, or sexual orientation. Because of the vast spectrum of people they help, their needs include:

  • Donate
  • Wishlist
  • baby wipes
  • diapers
  • baby formula
  • feminine hygiene products
  • hand sanitizer
  • disinfectants

Items should be shipped to the SAFE Donation Warehouse at 1515 Grove Blvd., Austin, Texas 78741. New, unopened items can also be dropped off in the donation bins outside of the warehouse.

Family Eldercare helps seniors age with dignity by providing services that include guardianship, in-home medical care and counseling, and housing. Financial contributions are the best way to help right now.

Foundation for the Homeless helps Austin families with rapid rehousing, assistance acquiring food, and help paying utility bills.

  • Donate
  • Clorox wipes
  • dish soap
  • toilet paper
  • pillows
  • can food
  • sanitary pads
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • soap

Donations should be dropped off at PO Box 140946, Austin, TX 78714. Email for more information.

Sunrise is powering through the pandemic, for as long as they are able, by continuing to provide food and services to people who have come to rely on the food and case management services offered by the church. They are in need of financial contributions, as well as protective items:

  • Donate
  • non-perishable foot items
  • hand sanitizer
  • masks
  • gloves
  • sanitary wipes

Shipping items to the church is preferred, but they can also be dropped off in-person. Ship or deliver to 4430 Menchaca Rd. Austin, Texas. Call ahead before delivering in-person 512/522-1097.

Angel House is another church-sponsored organization that intends to continue their operation as long as possible. They are still serving lunch on weekdays, and are most in need of financial contributions, as their needs are changing daily.

Street Youth Ministry helps about 100 youth and college-aged people who have experienced homelessness. About 60% are housed, but will be suffering financial hardship from the local economic downturn. The organization is in need of financial assistance, as well as food that can be easily prepared at home, as well as food that can be eaten without preparation.

  • Donate
  • boxed food (like mac and cheese, rice mixes, and instant potatoes)
  • canned food canned soup
  • phone battery banks
  • hand sanitizer

Saint Louise House helps single mothers transition from homelessness into a more stable life by providing apartment style housing and supportive services tailored to the need of each individual family. Financial donations and the following items will help:

In-person deliveries are accepted by appointment. Email to schedule one.