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Council to weigh money for a new homeless shelter

Thursday, June 6, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

City Council members will vote today on items that would expand the number of beds in Austin’s homeless shelters.

Council will vote to direct staff to find land and funding for an emergency shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. Members could also approve a one-time donation of city money to help the Salvation Army reduce a $4 million funding gap for the Rathgeber Center for Families in East Austin, which is slated to open this summer.

If approved, the new emergency shelter would temporarily house up to 100 individuals.

Interim Homeless Strategy Officer Veronica Briseño says the shelter would follow the city’s housing-first strategy, which pairs clients with case managers to cut down on lengthy stays at Austin’s shelters.

“It would be a housing-focused shelter where we’re working to have an emergency place, a temporary place for people to live while they’re working toward housing opportunities,” she said.

The city is rolling out the same housing-centric model at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless in October. The model, which has been around since the 90s, has been shown to cut down on long-term stays in emergency shelters and increase the odds of clients remaining in housing after transitioning from homelessness.

The city estimates the shelter would cost $2.5 million to operate annually, Briseño said, and that funding for the site and possible renovations could come from a pot of $7.5 million in community development block grants. Council members also discussed using city money from the Waller Creek project, though that would require the shelter to be within that area.

Council will also consider whether to provide financial help to the Salvation Army for the Rathgeber Center on Tannehill Lane. City staff suggested giving the charity $1 million for operations at the center and case management at its downtown location.

At a work session Tuesday, Council Member Kathie Tovo said the money would go a long way toward achieving the city’s goal of moving families out of downtown.

“We have a beautiful shelter opening up that’s not going to be able to operate at full capacity” without financial help, she said. “And so I think this should be one of our very highest priorities.”

The 212-bed location near East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and U.S. Highway 183 could free up 55 beds in the Salvation Army’s downtown shelter.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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