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Monday, August 21, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Memo identifies preliminary locations for temporary homeless shelters

As part of a recent push to help Austin’s homeless, the city has been looking into using city-owned buildings to help ease overcrowding in downtown shelters. Last week, the Parks and Recreation Department provided a list of recreation centers that could work as temporary shelters, though that use could interfere with existing programming.

The Aug. 17 memo, written by Interim Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley to Mayor Steve Adler and City Council, identifies six facilities for consideration as temporary shelters for the city’s homeless population. Those sites are Austin Recreation Center, Givens Recreation Center, Gus Garcia Recreation Center, Northwest Recreation Center, Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center and South Austin Recreation Center.

Though the identified shelters are throughout the city, half are located in East Austin and none of the proposed locations are west of MoPac.

McNeeley’s memo explains that the shelters were identified through an October 2014 study of city facilities that could operate as an emergency shelter as part of the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan designed to house coastal residents who had evacuated to the city during hurricanes.

Though such emergency sheltering has taken place at recreation centers in the past, McNeeley notes that those experiences have taught them that the department “can effectively operate temporary sheltering in conjunction with programming, as long as it does not exceed 5 calendar days.”

“A longer sheltering term will result in the substantial cancellation of recreation center programs and activities at the shelter site,” she continued. “Furthermore, long-term sheltering will require additional city staffing as well as specialized service coordination. Shelter operations require 24-hour logistical site support; therefore, shelter operations were not able to co-exist alongside normal recreation programming.”

The memo also notes that none of the proposed locations for shelters are available without impact to current programming. They were identified by using the following criteria: physical building suitability, proximity to mass transit options, socioeconomic factors, revenue impacts, existing contracts or agreements, nearby facility closures and planned construction or renovation.

The Parks and Recreation Department was asked to head up the process of identifying city properties for use as temporary shelters for the homeless. A resolution passed earlier this month asked that the city manager provide to Council possible shelter options and a cost of operations and maintenance by Aug. 24. At that point, according to the memo, they will have a list of five possible temporary shelter options.

Photo of Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

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