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As Austinites Move to City's Outskirts, Support Services Follow

KUT News
As people move outside of Austin proper, some social services and non-profits are moving with them.

Central Austin is experiencing what some have called an exodus of sorts: Higher housing prices and other factors have pushed entire communities out.

Over the last decade, some have migrated to northern suburbs like Round Rock and Pflugerville or south to Kyle, Buda and San Marcos. But up until now, the services many of those people rely on have stayed put in downtown Austin.

Last week, Jo Kathryn Quinn cut the ribbon at a new Caritas office in North Austin. She's been working on opening the new office — Caritas is a non-profit that serves refugees, veterans, and the homeless — for the last two years. 

She struggled a bit as she tried to cut the ribbon — the giant scissors were dull. But it didn't dampen her spirits.

Quinn chose North Austin for the office because more and more of Caritas' clients now come from the outskirts of the city. Quinn recalls hearing them comment in passing about "how hard it was to get to downtown."

Traffic from North Austin into downtown can be pretty brutal, and taking public transportation also presents a challenge for the people Caritas serves. That's why Quinn decided to bring the services to where the clients are.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says Quinn's move needs to be replicated by other service providers.

"We are seeing an out-migration for affordability reasons," says Eckhardt.

Now many of the people with food insecurity or in need of affordable medical care don't live downtown, so they end up having to pay a stiff price with their time and money to get assistance.

Eckhardt says the switch will take time, but she's noticed other providers are catching on.

"People's Clinic is also opening up a clinic up on Dessau Road. That also is a harbinger of good things with regard to placing services where they are most needed," Eckhardt says.

Eckhardt notes that there are few options for communities southeast of downtown like Del Valle. The judge's challenge now is to entice providers to also open up satellite offices in the southern parts of the county. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.