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August 27, 2020

Fiercely Focused: Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center

AUSTIN, Texas (August 27, 2020) — A lot of places that provide direct services for people experiencing homelessness scaled back or closed down due to COVID-19. The Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center picked up the slack.

The staff and volunteers at Sunrise are Fiercely Focused on ending homelessness.

“We were just a church doing normal church things up until about five years ago,” said Mark Hilbelink, pastor at Sunrise Community Church for the last 11 years. “That was about the time the navigation center was born.”

The church “didn’t have any idea what we were doing,” Hilbelink said, but they wanted to help. “We just kind of did what we felt was the right next thing to do.”

Pursuing the next right thing led to where Sunrise is today. Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., staff and volunteers serve food and coffee, give out clothing, distribute mail for almost 2,000 people with no other address, connect people with physical and mental health services, help people get IDs, and complete Coordinated Assessments to connect people with permanent housing, among other services.

They partner with Integral Care, CommUnityCare, the City of Austin, ECHO, and other organizations to create and foster an integrated, holistic approach to ending homelessness.

“We do what we are good at, and we allow other agencies to come in here and do what they are good at,” Hilbelink said. “And because we’re doing that together, and we’re talking about it together, we’re able to create an integrated approach that really, I think, creates better and more sustainable change than just simply doing one thing or another.”

“It’s so cool to be able at the end of the day to say, like, we brought John Smith in, we addressed John Smith’s mental health needs, we addressed his physical health needs, we addressed his substance abuse needs, we addressed his community needs, we put some food in his belly, we helped him get an ID, like all under one roof.”

Since the pandemic started, Sunrise moved its operations outside, instituted social distancing guidelines, and started handing out masks to folks who don’t have them. While other services are shutting down, they’re able to continue connecting people to the services they provide.

Watch the video above to see how Hilbelink and other staff members are Fiercely Focused on ending homelessness.