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Austin to temporarily reopen downtown Salvation Army shelter to house homeless residents

Patricia Lim
The Salvation Army abruptly closed its downtown shelter in April and put the building up for sale. On Thursday, the Austin City Council voted to lease the site for a year.

Temporary relief is on the way for some of Austin's more than 5,000 homeless residents after City Council voted to reopen the Salvation Army's downtown shelter beginning July 1.

Thursday’s vote allows the city to lease the building from the Salvation Army. The city will work with Urban Alchemy, the nonprofit that runs the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or ARCH, to extend homeless programs to the facility.

The one-year lease will cost the city $1.2 million, which will mostly be funded through the Austin Public Health budget. Urban Alchemy will receive an additional $4.5 million through the American Rescue Plan Act to run the shelter and extend ARCH services.

Mayor Kirk Watson said the council was committed to addressing the needs of those experiencing homelessness by identifying ways to provide permanent supportive housing, mental health services and other needs.

“Without connective services and emergency support we can’t really appropriately address the crisis that we are in,” he said. “We can't appropriately address the inhumane conditions of people who are living on the street, living under overpasses and living in parks. We can do more.”

In February, the Salvation Army announced it would close its downtown location at Eighth and Red River streets, citing the aging facility and increasing costs to run it. With the help of the city, the nonprofit pushed back the closure to April. About 100 people who had been living there have since been relocated.

When the shelter closed, it was a hit to the city’s already strained resources. There are more than 5,000 people experiencing homelessness in Austin, and just under 1,000 shelter beds, which are mostly occupied, Dianna Grey, Austin's homeless strategy officer, said.

The Salvation Army site was put up for sale in May, but the city can lease the building for a year to extend much-needed services and shelter.

In recent weeks, the city has been working to address the growing need for emergency shelter as Central Texas prepares for triple-digit temperatures.

Last month, the city announced it would add nearly 450 shelter beds by the end of the summer.

The city began increasing capacity at both its temporary shelters this month by shifting rooms from single to double occupancy. The city is also working to convert the Marshalling Yard, a Southeast Austin warehouse, into a temporary shelter that could accommodate up to 300 people. Social services are available at the sites.

The ARCH provides housing-focused shelter and basic needs services to men age 18 and older. The program focuses on helping residents transition into permanent, stable housing. The shelter can house up to 130 people.

The Salvation Army shelter had been a resource for single women and families for nearly 40 years. Before the pandemic, it served up to 250 women and children each day. Contract negotiations will determine who will be served by the reopened shelter. The city said the shelter has the capacity to serve 150 people nightly.

Homeless advocates have said permanent supportive housing that provides social services is one key to providing a long-term solution to homelessness.

The city has several permanent supportive housing projects slated for completion, including Espero at Rutland in North Austin and the conversion of several hotels. Travis County also set aside $110 million for 11 different projects.

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Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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