FOCUS ON: Austin’s Homeless

Elroy Morales, Isaiah Thomas, Gary Matthews… These names are among the 158 homeless people who lost their lives last year in Austin.

“They may have been invisible to many people in their lives on the streets but today they are NOT invisible,” said city council member Laura Morrison at the Homeless Memorial Ceremony.

More than 9800 people in Austin are homeless. As city manager Marc Ott watched the proceedings, he reflected on his own decision to experience this life first-hand.

“For me it was eye-opening,” city manager Marc Ott said. “I mean I was struck by things like the idleness… simply having nothing to do all day. I was struck by when I first got there that morning, when I got downtown the reaction of people to me.”

Ott says he is still digesting from his experience.

“While housing first in my humble opinion, housing alone is not enough,” Ott said.

The Austin City council passed a resolution calling for 350 units of supportive housing, but other key factors must be addressed including mental health and job training.

“Beyond that a job would provide that same sort of aha, right on, work yes let’s go John Q citizen again rather than a reptile sitting on a dang gazebo,” Charles, who is homeless, said.

Charles and his wife, Alice, were left homeless after Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re a family. I’m a family man without so much the house,” Charles said.

They haven’t had much luck weathering the job market.

“People think we’re out here drinking… yeah I wish!” Charles said.

“People say, ‘why are they waiting around?’ Well, there are 3,000 people waiting to get into public housing, there’s a waiting list for case management, there’s a waiting list for the health clinic, there’s a waiting list for everything. So that at some point what else are they going to do,” said Dawn Perkins, the Director of Communications for Front Steps.

Life on the streets is waiting game… some wait to die. Others hope for a hand up rather than a handout.

– Nicole

DAB Spotlight: Live Oak Pharmacy

There’s a new pharmacy in town… And it’s not your typical “over-the-counter” experience.

“We are a firm believer in the body-mind connection,” said Scot Maitland, co-owner of Live Oak Pharmacy. “If you feel good you are gonna be good and healthy and well. So, to be able to provide people with a unique surprise when they walk in the door, that it’s not business as usual at Live Oak Pharmacy, it’s about you.”

Live Oak Pharmacy – located on West 5th street – opened its doors in April. Maitland says it’s not just about counting pills…. It’s about being rooted in the community.

“We’ve really kind of integrated ourselves in the community because we live here; we live downtown and our customers are our neighbors,” Maitland said.

The pharmacy hosts monthly health and wellness education programs and also supports local events such as the Mamma Jamma Ride and the AIDS Walk. But what really makes the pharmacy unique are its services.

Staff at Like Oak mix medicine – also known as compounding – in order to fit the unique needs of each patient.

“Not everything works for everybody,” Maitland said. “We live in a very customized world. You can customize your own car. You can customize your home. Why not customize your medications.”

Patients might request compounding to convert solid pills into liquid form or just to add a dose of their favorite flavor.

Live Oak also has a medication take back program. Customers can bring unused medicine to be disposed of in a safe way. Since the start of the program in April, Live Oak has collected more than 275 pounds of pills.

“We’ve been big advocates of collecting those unused medications that would have otherwise gone into our water supply or into a dumpster somewhere or worse yet into the hands of the hands of our youth,” Maitland said.

At Live Oak, wellness isn’t just about your health… it’s about the wellness of the community.

Do UT Students Use/Care About MetroRail?

Six months after the opening of the MetroRail… Downtown Austin Blog contributor, Nicole Sanseverino, hops on board the Red Line with an update on just how well the $110 million dollar project is doing.

The MetroRail makes its way from Leander to Downtown Austin on 32-miles of existing freight tracks.  It’s a commuter rail that runs only during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening.  UT students ride for free using their IDs.  But, some students don’t even know it exists…

“The MetroRail… I don’t know anyone who takes it,” said one UT student.

According to Cap Metro, less than one percent of the UT community take advantage of the rail. One student who lives in Round Rock says the rail is a convenient way to get to class.

“It’s quick, it’s calm, sometimes I can sleep on it. I don’t get sick like on the bus,” said UT student Anke Sanders.  But, she does wish the rail operated at other times during the day.  “If it could ran more often especially during weekends maybe to go downtown for dinner or something that’d be ideal,” Sanders said.

If the City’s proposed Mobility Bond passes in November, it will launch an effort to expand the rail. CapMetro approved mid-day service beginning in January, but doesn’t have any concrete plans to increase the actual infrastructure of the rail.

“We don’t have any immediate plans for building more. I think what people would see first would be maybe purchasing more vehicles, expanding these rail stations,” Cap Metro spokesperson Misty Whited said.

After its first six months, the MetroRail is averaging 800 riders per day, but the city of Austin and CapMetro hope that as the population increases, so will ridership.

“We think it’s a great success,” Whited said. “We’re operating very well and efficiently, we just would like to see some more riders of course, but with any new service it takes time to develop that ongoing ridership patterns that you would like to see.”

Despite some bumpy tracks near its beginning, the rail chugs along.

-Nicole

Downtown Living Tour

Tour downtown Austin’s condo and apartment buildings this Sunday with the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, as part of their annual Downtown Living Tour (aka “DLT).

Jamie Lagarde, President of DANA, shares with us, “the purpose of the event is for people to get an overview of what it means to live, work and play in  downtown Austin.”  He continues, “People drive by downtown, and see a lot of things have changed, or they come down for dinner but they don’t really get a feel for what it means to live, and experience downtown on a daily basis.”

Buildings on the tour include: W Hotel Residences, 5 Fifty Five, 904 West, Austin City Lofts, Brazos Lofts, Gables Park Plaza, Brown Building, Brazos Place, 360 Condos, Red River Flats, Gables West Avenue, Spring Condos.

Click here to reserve your ticket.  Tickets are $15 ($25 day of).


Downtown Austin’s PubCrawler

The new PubCrawler of Austin is making rounds about the city and giving barhopping a whole new ring. “It’s a party on wheels,” owner Billy Lund said describing the PubCrawler. “A peddle-powered mobile bar?” rider Nate Nickerson ventured a guess. “Just a bar on wheels,” according to co-owner Robin Lund.

Founded in August, Austin’s first PubCrawler holds 10 pedalers, 16 people in all. It’s BYOK. Renters can bring their own keg and choose one of six predetermined routes, stopping at some of Austin’s most popular bars and music venues.

The foot-powered vehicle was invented in the Netherlands and goes up to 5 miles per hour. “It’s much easier sitting on the back row than it is pedaling… cause that’s a lot of hard work!” shares rider Shelli Nickerson. “It’s so safe because everyone really slows down to see you.”

Safety means more than just driving slow. With nearly 28,000 DUI crashes in Texas last year alone, PubCrawler’s designated driver takes the wheel, so barhoppers don’t have to.

“You don’t have to worry about where you’re going to park your car, who’s going to drive it home, who’s the designated driver. You get to forget about all that stuff and just have fun,” rider Nate Nickerson said.

While the PubCrawler can be fun, the city of Austin does enforce rules…. It prohibits glass bottles onboard the Crawler and outlaws drinking east of Lamar. “Every one wants to know how it’s legal as far as the drinking goes. We do have restrictions,” according to Lund.

Similar concepts have been popping up in cities across the country, such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Houston. Whether rented out for birthdays, bachelor parties, or just a night on the town, this mobile bar is putting the pub in public.

-Nicole