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Homeless services would get a boost from recommended budget earmarks

Tuesday, October 9, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

A budget amendment expected to go before City Council later this month would seek to direct up to $1 million in new money toward improvements to Austin’s downtown homeless shelter and provide other resources to move people out of homelessness.

A recent memo from Interim Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley spells out how the $1 million in funding earmarks would augment another $2.5 million in homeless funding set aside in the city’s recently passed budget. Those funds will help shift the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless into a temporary assistance and residence facility, instead of the long-term residence it has become for many of its clients.

The memo recommends that Council:

  • approve $261,000 for “rapid re-housing” services to move people back into permanent housing. Total funding for these services would reach $721,000;
  • approve $377,000 to hire two specialists to help homeless services clients navigate the local nonprofit network, plus a community health paramedic and a case manager, along with access to services for new clients;
  • approve $232,000 for ARCH safety and revitalization, specifically streetscape improvements and increased presence by the Austin Police Department;
  • approve $50,000 toward creation of a pilot program for respite care, undertaken in partnership with community organizations. Recent data and surveys suggest Austin has a need for 40 respite care beds, which could possibly be located in a city facility.

The funding recommendations point toward the recently released solicitation of proposals for the next long-term contract to manage the ARCH, which has become overwhelmed with the demand of the city’s growing homeless population.

“This facility was originally designed to operate as a temporary emergency shelter facility, but has become a long-term stay option for many clients. Many clients are staying at the ARCH for extended periods of time, and the illegal activity that sometimes occurs outside of the facility contributes to many people experiencing homelessness expressing no interest to go to the ARCH for shelter and services,” the memo reads in part.

Also included are initial findings on how the city could leverage funds generated by the Waller Creek Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 17, which would collect money from the increase in property taxes generated by improvements scheduled for the areas around Waller Creek in the coming years. Staff research into how to use those funds has found the city’s options are limited to capital improvements rather than operational funds, with projects such as day navigation centers for those seeking homelessness services, respite care facilities, additional emergency shelter spaces, and additional transitional and permanent supportive housing beds.

Those facilities would need to be located in the boundaries of the TIRZ, which runs along the creek through downtown and includes the ARCH property, and could be paid for with incremental annual funding or by selling bonds against the future tax revenue.

Utilizing the TIRZ funding has been one of many pieces for homeless services designated in the “downtown puzzle” plan laid out by Mayor Steve Adler last year. That plan is now on hold and being studied by students at the University of Texas, who are specifically analyzing the possible expansion of the Austin Convention Center, which is the linchpin of the plan.

The budget amendment for homeless services is expected to appear on the Oct. 18 Council agenda, with staff expected to report on more options for the TIRZ funding in November.

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