The Austin City Council has officially approved the purchase of a $8.6 million property located in South Austin to house a new homeless shelter.
The shelter, which will be located just off Ben White Boulevard, will be constructed inside an already-existing building and marks the latest effort from the city to help assist the people of Austin who are directly affected by homelessness. This includes the goal of constructing shelters in all ten City Council Districts.
The new shelter, according to City Council, will focus on helping homeless individuals obtain permanent housing after staying there on a short-term basis. Additionally, it will have less restrictions on those who stay there. This would include marriage requirements for couples to stay together, as well as bans on any pets like dogs, cats, etc.
However, the idea of the new shelter wasn't met with all positivity. It did draw a bit of backlash both at a recent council meeting and online thanks in large part to the fact that it will be within a decent proximity to residential neighborhoods. One of the main causes of concern was that the shelter could potentially attract more homeless people to these neighborhoods, with the fear that the shelter itself could end up contributing to issues such as petty crime and drug use.
Council members, however, reiterated that the new shelter would not be a “drop-in” location, but rather that everyone who stays there would be referred by other agencies which would ensure that they would not have issues similar to the ARCH building, which typically sees crowds develop outside it. More specifically, there will be no camping or areas for congregation for those who are not residents of the shelter. This same information was also reiterated in the form of a staff memo.
In terms of costs, it is expected that annually, it will cost approximately $2.3 million to maintain the shelter. This summer, Austin City Council will hold budget talks, and they are expected to include discussions on how to fund further support as it pertains to those suffering from homelessness.
An online petition had also previously been launched in opposition to the new shelter, with more than 1,100 signatures being obtained. The petition had alleged that South Austin residents had not been given proper notice of the shelter being constructed, as well as the location being in direct conflict with many residents who live in the same area. To those who signed the petition, they state that they felt that their views and feelings were not being considered, even though they pay taxes in the city of Austin.
In the meantime, there will also soon be a process beginning to hire a new manager of homeless services for the city of Austin. A permanent hire will be conducted via a national search, which will conclude in the coming weeks.
As for the new shelter, it is expected to be up and running in full operation sometime before the end of this coming September.
It’s no secret that Austin has been trying to increase their effort towards helping homeless individuals get off the street and to a better place in their lives. Homelessness in Austin is an increasingly pressing issue, and in 2018 there were approximately 2,147 homeless people living in the city, and increase by more than 100 people from the year before.
Austin has been trying to address the homelessness issue in Austin for years with lackluster results, not for the lack of trying. The city is now shifting their focus away from managing the issue, and are focusing more on solving it, which is where the Austin Homelessness Advisory Group is showing to be an integral part to that effort.
On Thursday, June 20th the City of Austin approved an ordinance that would amend the city’s codes on camping in public areas, solicitation, sitting or lying down on public sidewalks and camping in downtown Austin.
Under the new ordinance, according to KXAN, the Austin Police Department will not be allowed to give our tickets or arrest homeless individuals who are soliciting, camping, sitting or lying in a public space in Austin unless they are causing a public health or safety hazard. An offense would only qualify for an arrest or ticket if they’re endangering the health and safety someone else or if they’re “intentionally making a public area impassable or unsable”.