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Event offers mobile showers, haircuts to homeless

During South by Southwest, pop-up events from surf simulators to a replica “Twin Peaks” diner will take over downtown Austin. But on Saturday, there’ll be a different kind of pop-up event on Red River Street focused on helping Austin’s homeless youths.

The Pop-Up Care Village, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will offer services to the city’s homeless population, including mobile showers, haircuts, free clothing, food and resource referrals provided by several Austin vendors. Although the event is focused on youths experiencing homelessness, organizers said, no one seeking assistance will be denied services.

Everyone comes to Austin to show off during South by Southwest, said Leo Ramirez, CEO and founder of Encast Inc., a local charitable giving startup. But it wants to show that there’s a vulnerable population that needs help and that there are ways to make a difference, he said.

Encast has partnered with San Francisco-based nonprofit Lava Mae, which launched its mobile hygiene service about three years ago when it began converting public transportation buses into mobile showers for homeless people. Since then, Lava Mae has created pop-up events with other nonprofits that expand beyond mobile showers to include a variety of services. Saturday will be the first time Lava Mae will offer the pop-up event outside of California.

“Homelessness destroys people’s sense of dignity and self-worth,” said Doniece Sandoval, founder and CEO of Lava Mae. “With hygiene comes dignity and with dignity comes opportunity.”

The Rio Grande Valley native said bringing the event to Austin will hopefully inspire others to help create change for the city’s young homeless population.

This year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Austin a $5.2 million grant to tackle youth homelessness. In Travis County, more than 2,000 students experienced homelessness during the 2015-16 school year, according to a 2016 report compiled by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

On Friday, another event drew attention to the homelessness issue. Nearly 200 Mobile Loaves & Fishes volunteers, homeless people and formerly homeless men and women carried signs in downtown Austin proclaiming “Welcome Homeless.” The signs were a nod to a new book by Mobile Loaves & Fishes founder Alan Graham.

In an effort to bring more visibility to social impact, Ramirez will be moderating a SXSW panel called “Shut Up and Do Something” at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the J.W. Marriott, rooms 201 and 202. The panel, which requires a festival badge, features community leaders, like Sandoval, who have turned ideas into action.

Other panelists include 17-year-old Rachel Parent of Canada, who is the founder and director of Kids Right to Know. The nonprofit focuses on educating youths about food safety. Parent has met with Canada’s former prime minister and health minister to discuss the group’s concerns. She’s also a blogger for the Huffington Post and was named Woman of the Year by Elle magazine Quebec.

Actor Danny Pintauro, best known for his role as Jonathan Bower on the TV show “Who’s the Boss?,” will also be featured on the panel. Pintauro has become an activist after revealing that he’s HIV positive and has battled a meth addiction. He’s now an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

“We hope people walk away inspired,” Ramirez said. “We want this to motivate attendees to pursue a movement of their own.”

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