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Austin to pay $15 million for former Salvation Army downtown shelter

The front of a building has a sign on it that says "The Salvation Army."
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
The shelter is expected to serve 150 people.

Austin is buying the former Salvation Army shelter downtown, securing services for people experiencing homelessness for years to come.

The City Council approved the $15 million purchase at a meeting last week. It had been leasing the property for the past four months.

Earlier this year, the Salvation Army announced it would shutter the facility at Eighth and Red River streets, citing the aging building and increasing costs to run the shelter. The nonprofit had served the downtown community since 1988.

The site was put up for sale in May. Two months later, the city leased the building for a year, with the goal of reopening it as an overnight shelter.

Now the city can make that decision more permanent and help chip away at the shortage of shelter beds.

Interim Homeless Strategy Officer David Gray said the 150 beds will be dedicated to women and people who are transgender.

“It allows us to create an environment where our women and our transgender community can feel welcomed and they can feel safe,” he told KUT.

More than 5,400 people are considered to be experiencing homelessness in Austin, according to the nonprofit Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. There are only about 1,000 shelter beds, most of which are filled.

By 2025, the lack of beds is expected to worsen. The city is projected to need 1,000 more beds by then.

Over the summer, the city began increasing capacity at its two temporary bridge shelters by shifting rooms from single to double occupancy. The city also opened the Marshalling Yard, a Southeast Austin warehouse, as a temporary shelter that can accommodate up to 300 people. Social services are available at the sites.

Mayor Kirk Watson agreed buying the Salvation Army shelter was necessary.

“It undermines the effort to house the homeless population and to solve some of the very problems that people bring to our attention on a daily basis, arguably on an hourly basis, by saying we shouldn't go forward on something like this,” he said.

The shelter will be run by the nonprofit Urban Alchemy, which also runs the ARCH, or the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

“It allows us to have a campus with one provider that can consistently provide the high-quality services that our downtown neighbors have seen,” Gray said. “We are excited to have them continue to be our partner on this campus, and operate both facilities with that orientation toward making sure our clients are successful."

Renovations are still underway, but Gray says the shelter is slated to open by the end of November.

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