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Mayor, community leaders unveil new facility for the homeless

Thursday, November 12, 2015 by Vicky Garza

A $14.6 million facility combining housing and services for Austin’s chronically homeless is expected to break ground in Central East Austin early next year with the support of Mayor Steve Adler, the Downtown Austin Alliance, various nonprofit organizations working to end homelessness and several prominent community leaders.

The 40,000-square-foot Housing First Oak Springs facility will be the first of its kind in Travis County, with 50 efficiency apartments for homeless individuals with mental illness, as well as an on-site clinic, a community room, a parking garage and retail space to provide supportive employment opportunities. The clinic will be run by Austin Travis County Integral Care and will provide primary care and behavioral health care to individuals living in the apartments, as well as the surrounding community.

“We have a homeless challenge that is 1,900 people,” said Adler at a Tuesday morning “Issues & Eggs” event hosted by the DAA, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (also known as ECHO) and the New Milestones Foundation. He said in a city of about a million people, the challenge is at a manageable scale, and he is optimistic that this project is one of the creative solutions that will help meet the challenge.

The panel at the event consisted of the mayor; John Rosato, partner at Southwest Strategies Group; Paul Bury, president and CEO at Bury, a design and engineering consulting firm; and ECHO board members Ed McHorse, attorney at Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, and Judy Maggio, former news anchor.

When the panel was asked why it has taken so long to do something about the issue of homelessness in Austin, McHorse spoke first, saying that it has been a slow process of education as we’ve grown up as a city. “It also helps to have the mayor and a major developer stand up and say it’s important,” he said.

Bury also spoke about the opposition – often referred to using the term NIMBY, or “not in my backyard” – to projects such as this that are considered undesirable in certain neighborhoods. He has faced this type of opposition before and said that it is hard to find a good property and, despite the challenge, he’s already working on another project to take more people off the streets without using taxpayer money.

Rosato said that it simply took a while to find a model that works.

The model being utilized in the Oak Springs project is called “housing first,” a whole-health approach that focuses on getting people housed as soon as possible, then providing services as needed to get them on the path to recovery.

The project will be funded by a combination of local, state and federal funds, as well as private donations.

At the event, the DAA announced that it has committed up to $150,000 over two years in the form of a challenge grant, meaning it will match private donations dollar for dollar up to that amount. Integral Care has a major gifts campaign underway to raise the matching funds.

Additionally, Integral Care is raising funds to match a grant from the state of Texas. The facility will be located at 3000 Oak Springs Drive, and the treatment center currently on the property will be relocated. The proposed four-story building is still in the city’s permitting process, but it is on track to break ground in spring 2016.

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Photo (L to R) John Rosato, partner at Southwest Strategies; Ed McHorse, attorney at Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody; Mayor Steve Adler; Paul Bury, President and CEO at Bury Design and Engineering Consulting Firm; and moderator Judy Maggio, former television news anchor.

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