Twenty-one year old Christopher Willemsen looks back on his younger days and can't believe where he is now.
“I followed the wrong people and ended up just going about it the wrong way, ended up with a criminal background,” said Willemsen.
The then 18-year old was in and out of jail, on the streets, and couch surfing when he could. Now he has an apartment, and he sits on a youth advisory council to help end youth homelessness.
“To be from where I was then to where I am now, it's just a tremendous honor to be here today,” said Wiillemsen.
He remembers sleeping on the streets and there are many youth who joined him. He thanks the community and organizations like life works which helped turn his life around.
The U.S government heard the call and is stepping in to help Austin. They are providing a $5.2 million grant to the city to fight youth homelessness. This award comes after a successful 100-day challenge to house 50 youth in Austin. This was organized by ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition) and Life Works.
“It is a significant recognition of what we're doing in this community. It's a recognition of the people you see standing behind me here. It is a recognition of the works that's being done,” said Mayor Steve Adler.
Housing and Urban Development chose just ten communities to award money to. Austin plans to use the money to implement housing strategies, host homes, more case management and more.
“We learned the necessity of collaboration yet again when we were working on the veterans challenge,” said Adler.
As for Willemsen, he knows he was a different person just three years ago. He hopes the community can look past the exterior of a person who's homeless.
“If you have a bad background, if you have tattoos, if you smell, if you've had a previous addiction, people are very quick to judge,” said Willemsen.
In addition to this grant, Bloomberg foundation chose Austin as one of seven cities to get a $1.5 million grant to combat general homelessness.