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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Salvation Army seeks funding on top of city dollars to open shelter for families
The Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation has pledged $100,000 to help open a new shelter for homeless families in East Austin, months after the city agreed to a one-time contribution of $1 million.
The funding will help cover some of the $4.9 million in annual operating expenses for the Salvation Army’s new Rathgeber Center for Women and Children, a $12 million facility that will permit the nonprofit to move families out of its downtown shelter at Eighth and Neches streets.
The DAA has also agreed to help raise another $300,000 toward the center’s operations, which will trigger an additional $100,000 contribution from the family of philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and put the Salvation Army closer to its goal of raising the entire one-year operating budget by the end of the year. Salvation Army officials hope to open the 212-bed center sometime this fall.
In April, City Council directed the city manager to find money to help fund operations for the center. The city has also given the Salvation Army $500,000 to expand services at the downtown location, including a shift to comprehensive case management for all clients with the intention of moving them to permanent supportive housing to keep them from cycling through various shelters in the city.
Corey Leith, communications director for the Salvation Army’s Austin Metropolitan Area Command, said the organization typically doesn’t solicit local governments for general fund dollars for operations, but conversations with Council members opened the door for city funding because of the critical need to address homelessness.
“The city approached us because of the great City Council members we have. Our business model is not to approach a city for funding because we rely on grants and other sources of income from the city, but when the Rathgeber Center was built, having the city help us wasn’t even a thought,” he said. “We were really grateful that they approached us and recognized that the Salvation Army has a successful program when it comes to housing individuals.”
Leith said the DAA and Integral Care are typical of the kinds of organizations Salvation Army will engage with to raise the needed funding. He said it is possible for another funding request to be made to the city in future years.
Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the downtown shelter, said local government revenue caps approved by state lawmakers will make it difficult for the city to make annual contributions to run the center.
Still, she said the one-time funding made sense because of the relief it will provide by opening more beds downtown.
“It would be a challenge for the city to (contribute yearly) because of the financial constraints we’re facing in subsequent budget years, but it was absolutely the right move for the city to step forward and help close some of that funding gap for this year for operations of the shelter,” she said. “It’s much better for those families to be in a family designed campus and it will make those beds available downtown where we really need them for individual men and women who are experiencing homelessness.”
The April decision by Council to provide operations funding for the center did receive some criticism from Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who said the Salvation Army’s lack of funding for operations wasn’t a direct city problem.
“The notion that a private entity like the Salvation Army would fundraise and construct a facility without having the operations money it needed to open the doors … it sets a really bad precedent when it comes to the city getting involved,” he said. “The city was not involved from the beginning, and we don’t know if (the facility) could have been bigger and featured more beds if they’d come to us before now when they need money to fund operations.”
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