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Austin City Council Moves Forward With New Emergency Homeless Shelter

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

City Council members voted to expand the number of beds in Austin's homeless shelters.

Council voted to direct staff to find land and funding for an emergency shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. Members approved 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 opens this summer.

The new emergency shelter would temporarily house up to 100 individuals.

Before the vote Jo Kathryn Quinn, executive director of Caritas of Austin, said the city needs another shelter.

"We recognize that with the really drastic increase in unsheltered people that we have in the city now that an additional shelter makes a lot of sense," Quinn said.

In an interview with KUT, 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.

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"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 using that money would require the shelter to be within that area.

Council also approved financial help for the Salvation Army's Rathgeber Center on Tannehill Lane. City staff has 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 MLK and 183 could also free up 55 beds at the Salvation Army's downtown shelter.

This story has been updated to reflect the City Council's vote.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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