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Photo by Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion

Travillion finds connecting resources helps solve complex issues

Friday, December 22, 2023 by Ken Chambers

When Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion looks at the county’s accomplishments in the year past, he sees lessons learned in the pandemic – and in his childhood – put into practice.

“It was really no one thing. We pulled together a large group of resources to address complicated problems,” he said.

Since the earlier chaotic period of the pandemic, he has a greater appreciation for the complexity of the problems the county faces, he said, citing drug addiction as an example. 

“Unless you address the core issues of the drug problem, jail costs will be unsustainable to you. Because you’re housing someone, you’re feeding someone, you’re doing all these things,” he said. “But more importantly, you’re not stabilizing them in the communities that they live in. You’re not giving them the tools necessary to be successful there.”

Addressing the problem requires identifying and connecting resources, he said.

“So what we have tried to do as a court is focus on diversion issues. How do we work with Integral Care (counseling and mental health center)? How do we work with the Sobering Center? How do we work with the resources necessary to not only give you the drug treatment you need, but give you access to the counseling you need? And not just counseling, but … job training.”

It often takes a variety of services to get people back on their feet, he said. 

“Oftentimes when you’re involved with the criminal justice system through drug addiction, you’re going to lose your job as well. So how do we get you retrained, a second-chance opportunity, but also we need to make sure to address the housing issues that are important in there as well.”

As a child, Travillion lived in Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, surrounded by poverty and segregation. With his parents working in the school system, the family avoided the hardships many of their neighbors experienced. The lessons he learned in that community have stayed with him. 

There were no after-school programs in the elementary school where his father was principal. 

“A lot of the people whose children went to the school were domestics or landscapers. And the thing about that was, not only did they not pay a lot of money, they were sunup-to-sundown jobs.

“So unless my father kept his school open, he didn’t know where the kids were going to be while their parents worked. So he kept the school open.”

He still thinks of schools as essential to addressing community needs.

“When I was young, you would get all of the shots that school required at school with the school nurse,” he recalls. “In many communities, the largest public institution is the public school. We should make sure that we’re fully using it to address the needs of the community.”

He says that despite his upbringing in Mississippi and the example set by his father, and despite years working with the NAACP, he is still sometimes surprised by the issues the county faces. 

“The thing that catches you off guard is the depth of the problems. Many of us think, ‘Well, put a Band-Aid on it, we’ll be fine.’ And what we found was complex problems that showed us we needed to do a better job of connecting the dots. We found ourselves in the position of facilitator.”

In Commissioners Court meetings, Travillion often suggests that “asset maps,” or lists of assets, be created as a tool to understanding what resources are available to address a particular problem. Asset maps offer an idea of the resources available in an area and the dots that can be connected.  

“What I try to do with every issue is to identify everyone who is working in that space. If you are working in an area, is it a school you’re working in? Is it a community center? Are you sponsored by a church? Is it a neighborhood association? We want to identify all the folks working in that area, because oftentimes, there are people doing wonderful work but they haven’t been able to go to scale.” 

If the group providing services can’t grow enough to cover needs, other groups can be brought in to cover the gaps, share knowledge and coordinate, Travillion said. 

“The goal of the process is to identify all of the pieces of fabric so we can build a quilt with it, rather than just have a little square of fabric that is not connected to the other squares in any way,” he said. 

One of the county’s top priorities, job training, offers a good example. The pandemic made job training more critical than ever.

“You had so many people who lost their jobs, left their jobs, had to be the primary child care provider and had to get out of the workforce.”

To offer more training opportunities, the county expanded its network of partners. This includes Fortune 500 companies like Tesla, Google, Samsung and Apple; state and city government; electric unions, plumbers and pipefitters.

One new program created in cooperation with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority helps people incarcerated in the Travis County Correctional Complex train for a commercial driver’s license.

“We found that in the first group, there were 14 folks involved. Each of those 14 people who went through the program had a job offer after certification. And no job offer was lower than $25 an hour.”

Though creating effective solutions to the county’s problems can be complex, the goals are straightforward. 

“We want to make sure that we are creating an environment that is improving the quality of life for the people who live in this community,” he said. “We are investing the resources to address the issues that not only deal with poverty, but deal with real opportunity.”

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