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Council Considers Using City-Owned Buildings To Ease Overcrowding At Homeless Shelters

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo says overcrowding at downtown shelters has led to harsh conditions for people experiencing homelessness. ";s

Austin City Council is looking at using city-owned buildings as temporary homeless shelters.

The idea comes from Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who says overcrowding at downtown shelters has led to harsh conditions for people experiencing homelessness.

Speaking at City Hall on Tuesday, Tovo said it’s an issue that demands action as the city works to get more people into permanent housing.

“We will need resources in the short-term, but I’ll be asking you, my colleagues, to consider expanding our resources for the long-term as well in this next fiscal year,” she said.

There are still questions about the cost and whether the emergency shelters would need to be staffed 24 hours a day. Council Member Ora Houston suggested exploring whether the state has available facilities. She also signaled the need for a big-picture conversation – perhaps in ongoing budget discussions – about the city’s approach to chronic homelessness.

“I don’t think there’s enough money in the world to figure this out,” she said. “There’s a reason people are homeless, and we’re focusing on, ‘How do we grab them out of the river,’ instead of ‘How do we stop the floodgates?’”

Ann Howard, executive director of ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), told council members she sees short-term shelters as a way to connect more people with permanent housing — particularly people who’ve been reluctant to take advantage of those services.

“Maybe they’re folks where because [we have] a new place to offer them, we’re able to engage with them differently,” she said. “They’ve resisted, and now they’re open.”

Howard said she has been talking with Austin State Hospital, a state-owned facility, about using space there, but city property should be considered as well.

Council is set to vote on the temporary shelter measure Thursday. If approved, the city manager will present council members with five building options and estimated costs later this month.

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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