Dove Springs: Turning the Corner

Southeast Austin’s Dove Springs is a neighborhood in transition.  

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Bound by Ben White, William Cannon, Pleasant Valley and Interstate 35, the area was originally a predominantly middle-class suburb. But after the closure of nearby Bergstrom Air Force Base in the 1990's, Dove Springs became a community marked by juvenile gang violence, drugs and poverty. 

While some of that crime has dissipated, Dove Springs still has one of the highest reported crime rates in Travis County. Two-thirds of the neighborhood population is Hispanic, making it one of the most rapidly growing immigrant neighborhoods in Austin. 

On Oct. 31, 2013,  Dove Springs was faced with an additional challenge: part of the neighborhood was submerged underwater during the Onion Creek floods. More than 600 homes were heavily damaged and 200 students were initially displaced. 

When KUT  began this series, the goal was to document the neighborhood's successes and setbacks. “Dove Springs: Turning the Corner” looks at how local, state and educational policies affect the neighborhood – everything from city council representation to childhood obesity. And while it will continue to examine those ideas in-depth, it will also follow the community as it rebuilds from the floods. 

Connie Gonzaes, Facebook

As people are gearing up for Thanksgiving, many families impacted by last month’s flooding are still trying to put their lives back together.The floods severely damaged more than 600 homes and many of those people still don’t have a permanent place to stay.

But residents came together Sunday night to provide some flood victims with a Thanksgiving dinner and a place to escape the cold temperatures, if only for a few hours.

The event was organized by Dove Springs resident Robert Kibbie and Pastor Richard Villarreal with The Springs Community Church. Overall, 120 meals were served. Volunteers also delivered 60 meals to people who were not able to attend the actual event.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

This year, KUT News is chronicling the challenges and changes affecting Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood in a series called “Turning the Corner.”

These stories have taken on added urgency in the aftermath of Austin’s Halloween floods, where flooding directly affected many Dove Springs residents. 

Bene Jacobs’ morning routine hasn’t changed that much. She still gets up before 6 a.m., before it’s light outside.

In the darkness, at her cousin’s house in Del Valle, Bene struggles to find her way into the room where her children sleep. “Still learning all the light switches,” she whispers.

Roy Varney for KUT News

For the first time in five years, southeast Austin’s Langford Elementary School has a free book program.

Langford, where 65 percent of the students are learning English as a second language, is able to relaunch its Reading is Fundamental program with help from a neighborhood church.

Richard Villarreal is the lead pastor at Springs Community Church. He approached Langford principal Dounna Poth last spring and asked how his church could help the school. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Early on the morning of Oct. 31, as waters rose to historic levels in Onion Creek, two of the flood gauges that officials rely on to monitor water levels weren't working. The flooding heavily damaged more than 600 homes and killed five.

One gauge was completely submerged by water, damaging the equipment – which isn't waterproof. But the other had malfunctioned before the flooding even began. And more than two weeks after the Halloween Floods, city and emergency officials still don't know why.

The gauges, which are managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), provide emergency responders with critical information during floods about how fast and how high flood waters are rising. In Austin, there are 130 flood gauges that measure water levels, rainfall and low-water crossings 24 hours a day.

Flickr user trebomb, http://flic.kr/ps/dmXZU

Update: This week, Blockbuster Video announced it is closing its 300 remaining retail stores. It’s a bitter end for the rental chain, founded in Dallas, which once had 9,000 stores.

Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood contains two of the city’s three final Blockbuster stores. And unlike the company as a whole, those stores are thriving.

In the story below, KUT examines how forces behind the chain’s closure – the Internet and the rise of streaming video – are the same forces that have kept Dove Spring’s Blockbuster stores open for years.

Original story (Oct. 4): When was the last time you rented something from a Blockbuster Video?

Austin City Council member Laura Morrison’s recollection probably speaks for most of us. “My memory doesn’t go that far these days,” she says.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The floods last Thursday in Onion Creek and Dove Springs damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 homes, displacing families – many of them with children. 

Bene Jacobs, her partner Lawrence, and their three children are one such family. They were rescued from the roof of her neighbor's home.

“My five year old was holding my 16 month old on top of the roof," she says.

While her family is okay, her home has been condemned.

“All of the walls are buckled and the tree fell on top of the roof so they said it’s no longer safe to enter the premise, so it’s fenced off," she says.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Residents and teachers at Perez Elementary say little information was distributed to residents immediately after flooding in Austin's Onion Creek and Dove Springs neighborhoods last week, leaving some residents confused and unsure where to turn — especially those who don't speak English.

When Pompilio Perez left his home in Dove Springs to go to work at 5 a.m. last Thursday morning. It was raining, but there was no sign of flooding. Thirty minutes later he couldn’t even drive down his own street where his wife, Ana, and his three children were at home. Ana Perez and her kids were rescued from their roof and, by Saturday, they had returned. At that point, she says, they hadn’t received any help.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Austin and Travis County leaders have declared states of disaster in the wake of last week’s flooding, with more than 600 homes damaged and 37 destroyed. It's the first step in getting federal disaster aid. Officials and residents are still working to clear away debris, while emergency responders continue to provide shelter, food and help as victims figure out their next steps.

On South Pleasant Valley Road in Dove Springs, volunteers set up underneath tents along the road handing out everything from blankets and diapers to deodorant. Neighborhood association president Edward Reyes, says people remaining in their homes could face complications as a result of flood damage.

Kate McGee, KUT News

The student orchestra at Mendez Middle School has 15 new musical instruments, thanks to a large donation from Fidelity Investments’ new Austin location. The company surprised orchestra students during a special assembly Wednesday with $20,000 worth of violins, violas, saxophones and other instruments.

Jeffrey Hall, the school’s orchestra director, applied for the gift last year.  For the past four years, he’s built an orchestra program that now consists of 65 sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Donna Spencer and Iliana Gilman work with Austin Travis County Integral Care, the agency that provides mental health services for low-income residents in the area. They recently walked through the site of Integral Care’s soon-to-open $2.4 million facility, inside what used to be a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club.

It’s in the southeast Austin neighborhood of Dove Springs. This low-income, majority Latino neighborhood is getting its first mental health care facility. It’s in large part because of a federal initiative, the Medicaid 1115 waiver program, that funds experimental clinics like this one. It will offer mental health care and substance abuse treatment, along with routine primary care.

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