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A week before the Salvation Army shelter closes, many residents still don't have a place to go

The back of a person sitting in a chair next to bags full of belongings and a dog
Renee Dominguez
People experiencing homelessness and advocates gather at the Central Presbyterian Church during a news conference last week about the closure of the Salvation Army downtown shelter.

As many as 32 residents of the Salvation Army's downtown shelter are still scrambling for housing ahead of the site's closure next week, the nonprofit said Wednesday.

Austin City Council members questioned Maj. Lewis Reckline, head of the Salvation Army's Austin chapter, at a meeting of the city's Public Health Committee on Wednesday.

Reckline said the nonprofit is committed to selling the property, citing financial losses of up to $3 million a year. He said the board could be open to having the city take over the shelter briefly ahead of a sale.

"It's not a guarantee, but it is a conversation," Reckline said last week.

The shelter can house up to 100 people. It's been a resource for nearly four decades, serving primarily single homeless women.The Salvation Army quietly announced its closure in mid-February; it's slated to close next Wednesday.

The news took residents and nearby service providers by surprise, but Reckline said he'd previously discussed the closure with city staff.

Salvation Army told the city it had 64 residents in need of housing Monday. On Wednesday, Reckline said the shelter has found housing options for as many as 32 residents and that some had been offered travel vouchers to Dallas to stay at a Salvation Army shelter there. Another 32 haven't been offered alternatives.

Mayor Kirk Watson said he hoped the nonprofit would consider the "needs of those who are going to be abandoned" as a result of the closure. He implored it to keep shelter open as it negotiates a sale of the property.

"You don't have to go to another city if you don't want to," Watson said. "We're going to work with the Salvation Army to make additional time available. If that costs some money for the City of Austin ... we're going to do that. But the Salvation Army needs to be willing to keep that shelter open, so that we can do that."

Resident Kelly Alexander said she doesn't know what lies ahead for her; she hasn't found a stable place to go and she doesn't want to burden her family.

"We want to be in a place where we can be a part of this society again," she told council members.

Watson said the city would provide an update on negotiations Friday.

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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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