Austin's Plans for Ending Homelessness

May 30, 2019

While efforts have been taken by the City of Austin to assist the local homeless community in finding homes and getting them back on their feet, according the KVUE ABC, an audit from the Office of the City Auditor shows that there is space for development from the current city programs.

The audit from the Office of the City Auditor shows that perhaps the service providers put in place to serve the Austin homeless community aren’t performing as well as originally forecasted. According to KUT 90.5, the report found that “nine of the city’s largest contracts in 2017 met city benchmarks for service only about half the time”. KUT 90.5 reports that the Assistant City Auditor, Andrew Keegan, points to funding cuts to explain why the contracted service providers weren’t meeting their goals, but the audit shows that some contracts were amended to lower those goals after-the-fact.

 According to KUT 90.5, one of the service provider contracts was amended on four separate occasions by Austin Public Health to lower the minimum number of people who were served. Austin Public Health told the Office of the City Auditor that the changes happened due a typo, but Andrew Keegan found several other contracts that had similar changes made. The audit said the amendments were “not holding service providers accountable for poor performance.”

 There was an additional concern in the report regarding the measurement of success of these programs, and how they’re determining long-term success and people who return to homelessness. As reported by the Austin Monitor, the city audit found that “the city can’t always track whether a person returns to homelessness because not all providers are using a uniform reporting system. Some providers use electronic records, while others use paper records.”

 The audit also reports that the services need to be better balanced with case management to more effectively find housing the Austin homeless community. KUT 90.5 reported that this national study focused on Austin showed that half of the people who received assistance from a case manager from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) found suitable housing, but that less than 1% of homeless individuals who didn’t have case managers found access to suitable housing. Reportedly, the Austin auditor’s office recommended the creation of a centralized system or singular contact to reduce the problem of homeless individuals having multiple case managers who may not be communicating with one another.

 Ann Howard, a representative of the Ending Community Homeless Coalition, is reported by KUT 90.5 as telling the committee that a lack of resources has negatively affected the service providers can give.

 “We would love more staff, we would love to be able to have people in the programs longer, so that we are rock solid that that family will never need our help again,” Howard said according to KUT 90.5, “But we don’t have that luxury in Austin. We’re trying to stabilize and get to the next client.”

 The audit also found that people who are at the highest-risk of eviction or homelessness may not be the ones receiving the assistance that they need.

 The Austin Monitor reports that four-person households making $13,000 or less a year are the most susceptible to homelessness in the city of Austin, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, the audit shows that less than half of the people seeking help with utility bill assistance, temporary rental housing and legal assistance met that income in 2017. Most of the four-person households who received assistance from Austin Public Health were earning up to $50,000 during the 2017 calendar year.

 Despite these reports from the Office of the City Auditor, the city of Austin is still trying to make headway to help the homeless individuals and families who call the capitol city home.

 In April of this year, City Council held a meeting to look for funding resources to pay for a center that will provide resources for homeless families, particularly women and children. The Salvation Army’s Rathgeber Center for Women and Children in East Austin is a $12 million center built on Tannehill Road off east Martin Luther King Boulevard. It was funded by a campaign led by local developer Dick Rathegeber, and it would be able to offer housing for more than 200 individuals.

 The facility would help with the overflow of people waiting to receive help from the current downtown facilities, and has a focus on families who need housing for longer stays.

Area commander for the Salvation Army, Andrew Kelly, is reported as saying, “This initiative is a win-win for our community and for families experiencing homelessness. We absolutely must get the children out of the downtown area and into safer shelter and put an end to families sleeping in their cars.”

 Austin City Council is also looking end what is described as “discriminatory policies” towards Austin’s homeless community, according to Fox 7 Austin. Council Member Greg Casar is heading this effort, and his proposed ordinance would make changes to both the “camping” and “sit-lie” sections of the city’s current code, as an attempt to decriminalize homeless individuals who are trying to rest on the city streets.

In a reported statement from Council Member Greg Casar, he said “We won’t be able to arrest away our City’s homelessness problem….Asking for money, sitting or lying down in public, and sleeping in tents are basic requirements of survival, especially while homeless. Criminalizing this behavior is unjust and unconstitutional, and can prevent people from getting into housing or support services – the very thing they need to get off the streets.”

While Austin’s homeless population won’t be able to receive the assistance they need overnight, hopefully the plans put in action by the City of Austin in the future will increase the amount of people who are able to receive help and find temporary and permanent housing.

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