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Proposed Partnership With ECHO Would Convert More Motels To Temporarily House Austin's Homeless

A homeless encampment near the ARCH shelter in downtown Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez

ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, says the addition of 200-300 short-term motel units would substantially impact the community of Austinites living without shelter. In a memo sent Tuesday to the mayor and City Council, city staff said they agree.

Earlier this month, council approved buying the Rodeway Inn in South Austin and converting the units into temporary housing for people – without preconditions like mandatory case management or substance abuse treatment.  

But that motel can house only 87 people. The latest Point-in-Time count of homeless Austinites found more than 1,000 unsheltered people across the city. So, the Rodeway Inn purchase would just be a band-aid for a much bigger problem.

In the proposed partnership with ECHO, the City of Austin would buy functioning and operational motels to make rooms immediately available to house people. ECHO would secure funding to pay for operational costs like staffing, security and on-site services.

The partnership would focus on creating housing units that allow the three P's – partners, pets and possessions. The city says these three things are often the reason people won’t go to a shelter.

In a letter to the city manager, ECHO Executive Director Matthew Mollica said the Rodeway Inn won’t require additional investment to be used as "bridge" housing – that generally means housing for no longer than 90 days. But if those same units were used for permanent supportive housing, they'd need improvements – and ECHO would be responsible for finding money to make those repairs.

“We are confident that the creation of these housing units outside of Austin’s shelter system would help address unsafe camping using a trauma-informed, harm-reduction approach,” Mollica said. “The hotel sites will provide a place for people experiencing homelessness to access the necessary support and medical services to begin their path out of homelessness.”

Referrals for these bridge housing units will be based on a number of factors, including whether someone has recently been discharged from a hospital and how vulnerable they are.

The memo also addresses the process to select future motels for low-barrier housing. Though there is no scoring process, city staff said, factors like a building's condition and configuration would be weighed. All motels for sale in the city’s jurisdictional boundaries would be screened for possible purchase and conversion.

The deal to buy the Rodeway Inn is expected to be finalized in February.

Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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