AUSTIN, Texas – Dusty Monroe is no stranger to adversity. At 6 years old he says he was removed from an abusive household, placed in a children’s hospital, and moved to a foster home before finally being adopted by extended family.
Almost three decades later, in August of 2020, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although it was non-cancerous, it made Monroe take a step back and evaluate his life.
“As the results came in I was talking to one of my co-workers and I just broke down crying,” Monroe said. “It was scary. I didn’t know if I was going to die, I didn’t know where I was in my life.”
Monroe did know that he wanted to start giving back to his community.
He says he started with small deeds here and there until he found a post on online message board Reddit.
A picture of a man dubbed “Bucket Guy” posted by an anonymous Redditor showed a man making music with buckets and advertising his Venmo account on a paper sign.
The community admired the creativity and offered to create a new sign for the musician. Monroe stepped up to the plate and offered to take care of it. Along the way, he learned “Bucket Guy” wasn’t homeless, but had lost his source of income due to the pandemic.
The small gesture turned into a big idea.
“We could make [people experiencing homelessness] a bank account using signs, but that requires a bank account, a cell phone and often times those experiencing homelessness don’t have that,” Monroe said.
After doing some research, Monroe says he found a quote online saying that data shows those who experience homelessness are often not perceived as being fully human. It was a quote that changed his entire perspective
“It went from an idea of a small, simple, novel technology to a much bigger picture solution in how do we actually humanize those that are homeless in an effort to remove the stigma and really change the overall approach of how we help these folks,” Monroe said.
Monroe turned to his expertise in technology to create Humanize Austin, a nonprofit using tech to educate the public about the causes of homelessness while connecting those individuals with potential employers, resources, and donors.
Participants would be given signs that display a URL along with a QR code. People can scan the code or visit the URL to learn about the person experiencing homelessness, their background, and job skillset.
“Dusty and I being on the same page – we were just ready to spread our love,” Monroe’s wife, Karla Monroe, said.
She was immediately on board with the project, and now serves as the partnership’s taskforce director and treasurer.
“When this idea came up, it just more solidified what I wanted to teach my daughters,” Karla Monroe said.
Donations to people experiencing homelessness will be divided – 70% will go to the participant, 20% will be shared with a local non-profit of that person’s choice, and 10% will go to Humanize Austin.
The Monroes are waiting for final federal approval before launching in Austin, but their vision is already reaching beyond Central Texas.
“We have interests from New York City, Houston, and Boulder, Colorado,” Dusty Monroe said.