Friday, February 25, 2011

A Must See: It's Kind of a Funny Story

Yesterday I took a break and watched a movie that I would recommend : It's kind of a Funny Story. It's a story that took courage to write and produce. The movie gives a look at a week in an adult psychiatric ward of a hospital, albeit watered down for Hollywood. I believe they nailed the tough balance on this one - an uplifting story about not the most upbeat issue. If the karaoke scene doesn't have your eyes welling up then you may not have a soul. I'm just saying.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, one in four adults, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. It makes you wonder how many life experiences we are away from those who may be considered chronically mentally ill.

Ever drive by the homeless man who screams at cars on the corner of South Lamar and Barton Springs? Ever find yourself screaming at cars - behind your own steering wheel?

What is the real difference when you take an honest look?

I would argue that the difference could be, in many, a series of very difficult things that happen to us as we get older.Take some time this week and take care of your mind.

Watch this movie too - at the very least to educate yourself somewhat on an important population. A population that you may be a little closer to than you think.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Texas senators' proposals to limit payday lenders get hearing.

 According to the Dallas News, in some cases charges by payday lenders in Texas reach an annual percentage rate of 500 percent. 500 percent. 

Of course, there is opposition by prominent payday lending organizations. “If this bill is passed, we will be forced to shut our stores down in Texas,” said Jay Shipowitz, president of Ace Cash Express, an Irving-based company that operates 500 payday lending offices in Texas.

I talked to Aunt Bertha this morning, and she said she'd be willing to help pack. 

This legislation represents a bi-partisan effort to curb a predatory practice, and Texas would be joining a list of States who have already severely limited or curbed the practice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Just an Update

What a whirlwind of a couple of week's it's been. We've had the opportunity to meet with community leaders including Meals on Wheels and More, Safeplace, Lifeworks, St. Vincent de Paul, the Central Health District, the Community Action Network, and the United Way. What an interesting and fascinating group of organizations (and people).  I've learned so much, and continue to be inspired by the work they do.

We're still plugging away on the beta search and hope to open it up for testing soon. As mentioned in the past our programming skills were pretty rusty, but the world has changed over the last ten years. There are outstanding resources on the web to make it easier. One I would recommend is a javascript framework called EXT JS, provided by Sencha co-founded by a local austin entrepreneur and artist. Really slick stuff and relatively easy to implement.

Next week I will be nose-to-the-grindstone getting ready for a user testing cycle. We're still looking to grow our list of guinea pigs (err, testers), so if you haven't done so already sign up here. And while you're there, go ahead and 'like' Aunt Bertha on the top right. Speaking of facebook, like us there too to stay within earshot (we're quite proud of our newly acquired facebook handle).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Operation Worth Supporting

This week I had the good fortune to meet with Safeplace, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. To call it a shelter alone, though, would be a mistake. Safeplace is quite an impressive operation and offers a breadth of programs helping people from crisis situations through self-sufficiency.

Safeplace operates a 24-hour hotline (512-267-SAFE) geared towards victims of physical and sexual abuse. According to their website, www.safeplace.org, the Kelly White Family Shelter is a place where families can feel safe from abuse and where they can begin the process of recovery. Safeplace isn't always for women though, 1600 men and boys have sought shelter at Safeplace since 1998. At the family shelter there is a playground, computer lab, library, laundry room and even a day care center - the same day care center where Safeplace employees can bring their own kids.

With a staff of trained social workers and counselors, the organization has geared services towards helping as many people reach self-sufficiency as possible. For those that do not return to their original home after spending time in the shelter, Safeplace offers transitional housing programs as well as the wrap-around support necessary to help them move on. Programs include counseling, life skills classes, on-site childcare, after school programs and summer enrichment for kids while they're out of school.

The level of case management and careful attention from crisis to self-sufficiency is impressive. If you have some extra change in your pocket, consider donating to safeplace today.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

2010 Community Impact Report

For those that may be interested, the 2010 Community Impact Report - Compiled by Travis County, with a group of community leaders including the Texas Department of Health Services, United Way, the Mayor's Mental Health Task force and others released their new report which can be found here.

Here are some highlights that you may or not be aware of:

Austin Energy received 17,028 duplicated requests for utility assistance in 2010, a 13% increase from 2009 and nearly double the requests received in 2008.

Between 2007 and 2010, foreclosure postings in Travis County increased by 134%, from 3,482 postings in 2007 to 8,131 postings in 2010.

A point-in-time count of the homeless population in 2010 reported a total of 2,087 homeless individuals, 60% of whom were sheltered (either emergency, transitional, or Safe Haven), and 40% of whom were unsheltered. Over one-quarter (29%) of the homeless population represented households with dependent children.

In 2009, an estimated 23% of the population – representing 234,453 individuals – lacked
health insurance. Nearly 17% of these individuals were under the age of 18.

The most recent poverty data were collected in 2009. These data estimate that 16% of Travis County residents (163,630 people) lived in poverty, while more than one-third (35%) of residents (352,398 people) lived in households with incomes at or below 200% of the poverty level.

If we add some context to the last figure, one in seven of us live below the poverty line in Travis County. SNAP (Food Stamp Program) enrollments in the graph below show steady growth. More than 11% of all Travis County residents receive SNAP. When you consider that there are 43 million people in the country receiving SNAP benefits (roughly 14% of the population) Travis County is doing slightly better. But the growth in Travis County is what's alarming.



Over the coming weeks, I'm looking forward to sharing research on the burgeoning "At-Risk" population in the United States.