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Amid Effort to House Homeless Veterans, Advocates Call for More Inclusive Effort

Joy Diaz/KUT
Mayor Steve Adler (far right) poses with formerly homeless veteran Robert Hill holding his son Jordan (1), his wife Tenisha holding their son Isaiah (2 weeks), Bill Evans and state Sen. Kirk Watson (far left).

This week, Mayor Steve Adler announced a push to house all of Austin's homeless veterans by Veterans Day. The initiative, called House our Heroes, will focus on assisting the 200 servicemen and women who now live in Austin's streets.

Austin's total homeless population, however, is much larger than 200, and some advocates hope Adler's initiative is the beginning of a movement that could end all homelessness in Austin.

Yesterday, Mayor Steve Adler posed for photos with Robert Hill, his wife Tenisha and their three boys. Just a few days ago, the Hills were homeless and living out of their van.

Robert Hill is a veteran, though. So, through Adler's initiative, the family found a duplex this week.

At the event yesterday, Adler was asked a question about what the city is doing to help the hundreds more Austinites who are homeless, but aren’t veterans.

"The homeless situation in our city is a manageable problem,” he said. “The numbers are not so great that we just throw up our arms.”

Adler suggested his initiative could possibly be replicated to house other segments of the homeless population.

But, Richard Troxell with the non-profit called House the Homeless doubts that model can be replicated. For one, he says, there are federal dollars backing veterans. That money doesn't exist for other people who are homeless, but he says there are things Austin could do.

“What we need is to start thinking outside the box and we need to start thinking in terms of permanent income funding streams,” he said.

Troxell pointed to a solution used in Florida – which diverts one percent of restaurant revenues into a housing trust fund – and an oft-discussed proposal in Austin to capture revenue from hotels. Still, Troxell says, there has to be a political will to facilitate any action.

Judging by what Mayor Adler has said – the political will may be there. Now, it's just a matter of action.

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.
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