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After nearly 40 years — and with little warning — Salvation Army's downtown Austin shelter to close

Two women sit on a bench outside.
Renee Dominguez
Carolyn Williams (left) and Kellie Alexander (right) have both been asked to leave the Salvation Army's downtown shelter by March 15. They say they've been given little detail about where they can stay.

The Salvation Army says it will close its downtown shelter at Eighth and Red River streets, which has been operating for almost four decades, on March 15.

The closure would displace 100 single women experiencing homelessness — one of the most vulnerable populations of people living on Austin streets. Residents, advocates and officials held a news conference at Central Presbyterian Church on Thursday demanding answers from the nonprofit, which says it intends to sell the property.

Carolyn Williams, who has been staying at the shelter, said she hasn't been given a clear explanation of what to expect in the coming days.

“I’m so angry, hurt, broken," she said. "I was evicted when Katrina hit New Orleans, and I was evicted from my home because my son has schizophrenia. That’s why I am at the Salvation Army. Now I am being evicted from my home again."

Andi Brauer, a coordinator with the Central Presbyterian Church, called on city leaders to either stall the shelter's closure or stand up a temporary shelter for residents.

The front of a building has a sign on it that says "The Salvation Army."
Julia Reihs
The Salvation Army's downtown shelter, which has been open for nearly 40 years, serves single women experiencing homelessness.

"Whether it's the mayor's office, City Council, the Homeless Strategy Office, someone with power and resources can do it, if it's a priority to them," she said. "If we can locate a place, we can put some beds in it. We can make it happen if it's a priority."

The Salvation Army has said it plans to sell the land, which is valued at more than $12 million, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District.

In a statement, Salvation Army Major Lewis Reckline said the nonprofit "can no longer continue to offer the level and quality of care" for its clients.

The nonprofit has provided little detail to service providers like Central Presbyterian and Trinity Center, both of which provide the shelter's clients with meals and services to help them transition out of homelessness. Staffers with Trinity Center told KUT they didn't learn about the shelter's closure from The Salvation Army — but from its clients.

District 9 Austin Council Member Zo Qadri said he hopes to get answers from The Salvation Army in the coming days, and that he's working with Mayor Kirk Watson's office to find a new location or negotiate a potential lease on the property.

"I am extremely disappointed in the short notice given to the city, especially given the critical need of this service downtown," he said. "These are our neighbors ... that are left scared, that are left helpless, and that is a direct failure of us as a community."

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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