Janice Trigilio, who came to Austin and became homeless with her husband, is getting back on her feet. She recently landed a job and was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army’s Kettle Drive Monday night at Sterling Main Street. -- Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

Homeless couple highlight shelter need

Published 11:01am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Avoiding the streets of Austin

Just more than a month ago, Janice Trigilio looked down the block past Austin’s Salvation Army with one thing on her mind: a place to sleep.

“That little wooded area across the street is looking really good right now,” she told Kim Hallman, local Salvation Army volunteer coordinator.

Janice and her husband, Richard, who moved to Austin from Sarasota, Fla., last month, were left jobless and homeless after a carpentry job Richard was offered never materialized.

The Trigilios found themselves in a situation many in Austin face. Each month during the winter, the Salvation Army lodges 25 to 40 homeless people at a motel, said Lt. David Amick. People can stay there for as many as three days while the Salvation Army helps them get back on their feet.

But after four days, the Trigilios were looking at hitting the streets again. Thanks to Hallman, they didn’t have to do that.

“It was below freezing that night,” Hallman said. “I just couldn’t let them go on the streets. They’re a really nice couple.”

Now the Trigilios are staying with Hallman and her boyfriend. With that assistance, the Trigilios are recovering. Janice got a job at McDonald’s several days ago and is earning money helping the Salvation Army’s Kettle Drive.

“The Salvation Army has been absolutely wonderful,” Janice said. “I cannot say enough about the Salvation Army in Austin.”

The Trigilios’ situation is one of many reasons why some say Austin needs a homeless shelter. Janice said she and her husband have been homeless in the past, and a shelter in Austin would have helped them.

“If there had been a shelter here in Austin, I don’t want to say it would have made it a lot easier; but the worrying and the constant fear would not have been there.”

Measuring the need

There could be many types of people who would use a shelter in Austin. Like the Trigilios, some people lose their jobs. Others mismanage money, abuse drugs, have mental disabilities or come from other countries and fail to find employment.

Whatever the reason, Amick said a homeless shelter in Austin could be beneficial. Austin’s homeless population may not be large, but a shelter would benefit people like the Trigilios and even the Salvation Army itself.

“I wouldn’t say it’s severe,” Amick said about Austin’s homeless population. “I do know that we have more than our fair share for a town our size.”

For the rest of this winter, the Salvation Army will continue to house individuals and families at a local motel for several days at a time. But that’s all the organization can afford. After three days, the Salvation Army loses resources it could offer to other troubled people.

“That’s when we go financially backwards,” Amick said about housing people for extended periods of time.

A homeless shelter poses some risks, however. Some wonder if a shelter allows homeless people an escape without ever fixing their problems. There is also the notion that “if you build it, they will come.”

Amick has heard those rumors before.

“There is unfortunately that negative connotation,” he said. “I have heard that since the day I started talking about the shelter. Whether we build it or not, homeless are here, and that’s the truth. We have homeless people whether we have a shelter or not.”

A working model

Amick, Hallman and others at the Salvation Army hope plans for a shelter will advance in the next few months.

“We spend a lot of money housing people in hotels, and I think we’re finally getting people to understand that there is a problem,” Hallman said. “We’re spending a lot of money on hotels to house these people and that’s only a temporary fix.”

Officials are looking for a 10- to 15-room building for such a facility and hope it could be ready by next fall. With sites they have looked at thus far, that could be in the $200,000 price range, Amick said. Funding could come from several sources, including local, state and federal government, along with donations from churches, charitable organizations and the greater Salvation Army.

Amick said the Salvation Army could likely offer a couple more jobs at a shelter. Residents, however, would be mainly in charge of the upkeep. A shelter could start as emergency housing only; a place where people could simply get out of the cold.

If things go well, however, it could become a transitional housing unit where people could stay until they found employment. Residents would also have to routinely prove they have applied for jobs. Much of the shelter’s success would rely on Salvation Army officials and volunteers helping residents get back on their feet.

An example of success

Amick realizes some abuse the privileges of shelters and have no intent to better their situations. He has seen that happen.

“In those situations, the simplest thing we can do at that point is pray for them,” he said.

But while the Salvation Army may not be able to help everyone, it has been able to help people with a genuine desire to better their situations, people like the Trigilios. Janice said there were no jobs for her husband in Sarasota, and she was losing hours herself. Together they spent $450 in bus fare to get to Austin. They like the town; they want to stay in Austin. Janice said she’s been in rougher cities, like Cleveland, Ohio, and Tampa, Fla., where she was robbed on the street. So after Richard’s opportunity fell through in Austin, she didn’t quit.

“I think of him first,” she said. “I’m his wife, and this is what I have to do — even if I have to bug people 24 hours a day.”

She added, “I was determined I was going to have a job, one way or another.”

Without a place to stay, or simply an address to mark on an application, however, Janice may not have landed a job. She and her husband looked at staying at a hotel, but they were out of money so it was out of the question.

“We’re trying to save money, and that would be defeating the purpose,” Janice said.

But the Trigilios still have their pride, too. It may have been easier to use a shelter than stay in a stranger’s home. That’s why Janice insisted on giving Hallman $300 for rent and may treat Hallman to another surprise after receiving her first paycheck from McDonald’s. Hallman’s act of charity, along with Amick’s and others’ at the Salvation Army, nearly put Janice in tears.

“They gave me faith,” she said. “They gave me courage. They gave me strength.”

Janice said being homeless is scary, especially in a setting where she and her husband don’t know anyone. But with a little help, this time may just be a bit easier.

“We’ve done it before, so we know we can do it again,” Janice said.


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  • Brenda

    Why does something have to be built when there are so many empty buildings. The old Hy-Vee would be a perfect size for a shelter. It’s so stupid….tear down the good old stuff to buld new stuff that ends up empty. Isn’t Sears on the one way moving to the mall soon…another spot for a shelter. Sounds like they’re hell bent on starting one so why not use a building that is already empty????

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    • Cinch

      Brenda,

      Have you see how much the Mall charges for rent? If not, go check it out and then come back and say the Mall is a cost effective solution.

      I think there are a few other buildings that may work. But, then again how much would it cost to refurbish them, and get them up to living condition code?

      Report comment

    • Matt Peterson

      Sorry Brenda,

      I may not have made it clear enough. When I mention that officials are looking for a 10- to 15- room building, they are already looking at existing buildings. The potential buildings they could have used are in the $200,000 price range.

      After purchasing, it would likely take the Salvation Army several months to ready the building for tenants.

      Thanks for commenting and bringing this to my attention,

      Matt

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  • hts

    Cinch, I am wondering how you know how much the rent is in the mall! Last time I checked the malls rent is very cheap but with people like you its no wonder why Austin’s retail is struggling. Its kinda hard to fill a mall when you don’t have retailers coming to Austin. I think that Sears is willing to stay in the mall and move into a bigger spot is a good example of what the mall is trying to do. We all just need to think a little more positive and maybe things will get better!

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    • Cinch

      People like me?

      So realistic people that speak the truth are the problem? Ok.

      How do I know how much rent is, because in the last year I have inquired about leasing a space and the amount the mall wanted was down right insulting.

      I also know of at least 2 stores that were basically forced out of the mall when the mall raised their rents.

      But, if you want to blame people (like me) who tried to get a store out there and tried to bring a couple jobs to Austin. Then I guess that’s ok.

      Merry Christmas to you regardless.

      Report comment

      • Rhino

        went through the same thing a few years back… mall is way over priced for what you get…

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  • Brenda

    No I have no idea how much rent the mall charges but it seems wasteful to build new when there are so many empty buildings. Austin is a small town so it’s not like they need a huge facility. I’m glad that they’re looking into existing buildings instead of building new. Everyone deserves shelter!

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  • ChicagoStyle

    Maybe the Salvation Army should check out the arrest records before they use someone for a sob story

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