Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said the Parks and Libraries Fund started in 2013. It actually was originally started in 1990 as the Tree Planting Program Fund and renamed in 2013.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Homeless Student Assistance Fund, once known as the Public School Energy Assistance Fund, increased in the number of donations and donors after a vital name change made earlier this year.
The money in the fund, which is made up of donations from Austinites through their utility bill, will go to eight school districts in the Austin area to help students who do not have a permanent home and are facing obstacles.
A name change makes a big difference
In 2013, the City of Austin Utilities started the Public School Energy Assistance Fund. It was added along with the existing Customer Assistance Program and the newly named Parks and Libraries Fund, which used to be called the Tree Planting Program Fund.
The energy assistance fund would allow school districts to pay for things such as energy upgrades to buildings or electric bills. Scott Johnson, a private citizen who created the Parks and Libraries Fund to raise awareness for both the parks and library departments at the city of Austin, saw the Public School Energy Assistance Fund was underperforming.
Johnson said the fund would bring in $21,000 annually.
“I thought that was not as much as we could potentially get if we renamed and repurposed the fund,” Johnson explained. He persuaded city council to rename and repurpose the fund.
In February of this year, the fund was changed to the homeless student assistance program and saw immediate success in its first month. Johnson said the number of donations and donors increased by 50 percent.
“When people looked at the name, they understood immediately that this is a need,” Johnson said.
In January, when the fund was still dedicated to energy assistance, Johnson said it garnered about $1,600 in donations. In February, the revamped fund brought in almost $3,100. Johnson would like to see the fundraise more than $35,000 annually.
What happens with the money?
At the end of the fiscal year in September, the city will remit the money to eight school districts that are serviced by the city of Austin utilities. The money will be divided based on the student population. In the past, Austin I.S.D. has received about two-thirds of the total fund.
The money given to the school districts has to be used to help students who are experiencing homelessness. AISD started Project HELP to ensure students facing these obstacles are not left behind.
“We get the families and the students into permanent supportive housing, and with that, wrap-around services that will help them stabilize their home insecurity situation, their food insecurity situation, and their clothing insecurity situation,” Johnson said.
How you can donate
If you would like to donate to one of Austin’s utility funds, there are a couple of ways to do so. On your paper bill, if you still receive a bill in the mail, you will find an area to fill out a donation and send in money. Below you will find a picture of what that looks like on your paper bill.
You can also make a donation online. The city of Austin has provided the various ways you can make a donation on their website.