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Austin extends operations for temporary homeless shelter in Southeast Austin

A sign outside that says City of Austin Marshalling Yard
Michael Minasi
KUT News
The Austin City Council voted Thursday to extend operations at the Marshalling Yard, a temporary shelter in Southeast Austin, through March.

The Marshalling Yard — a warehouse in Southeast Austin being used as a temporary shelter — will offer beds and services for at least another eight months.

The city spent $9.1 million last year to open the shelter for a year. The shelter can accommodate up to 300 people and offers on-site services like meals, transportation and case management.

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to spend $500,000 to extend the contract with San Antonio-based nonprofit Endeavors through next March. It was initially scheduled to end Aug. 1. It will be paid for with money from the COVID-era American Rescue Plan Act.

The city was originally set to add $1 million to the contract, but Council Member Ryan Alter said the money could be better used to invest in projects like permanent supportive housing and case management services.

"I am not opposed to emergency shelter," Alter said. "It is a critical element of our system, but we have to have an entire system that is addressing the needs of individuals. ... I think this is the right move for right now. It allows us to preserve a piece of our very precious ARPA dollars and figure out what use those dollars might have to help within the system."

Beds lined up next to each other in a row with personal items around them.
City of Austin
The Marshalling Yard can accommodate up to 300 people and offers on-site services like meals, transportation and case management.

Victoria Marshall and others who stay at the Marshalling Yard urged council members to not only ensure there are places for people to go once they leave the shelter, but also to improve living conditions there. Several people said showering facilities were inadequate and food options were unhealthy. Many also complained there were not enough case managers.

"This is supposed to be a safe place where we can live and we are not being heard," Marshall said. "I think people need to have a safe place and a roof over their head, but I don't think it's a good idea for them to extend it [the contract] without a place for people to go. We all need shelter, and we don't need to be back on the street again."

Council members were assured these concerns have been addressed.

Last month, the city announced a new partnership between Endeavors and the Central Texas Food Bank to provide healthier meals at the shelter. Under the agreement, the food bank delivers three meals a day, five days a week. Meals accommodate dietary restrictions and meet the federal Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, according to a news release.

David Gray, the city's homeless strategy officer, said the city has also ensured the safety and security of personal belongings and pets, and that showering facilities are being cleaned regularly.

With council's vote, Alter said, money will also be directed to bring on more case managers who will focus on placing people in housing.

A crucial decision

Extending the contract comes at a crucial point in time.

As summer approaches, the area is bracing for temperatures that can reach into the triple digits — a concern many council members shared.

“Emergency shelter is absolutely critical especially as we get closer to summer,” Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said. “We anticipate that we are going to have one of the hottest summers on record, so it will be important that we have a cool place for folks to stay.”

But the weather is only one factor. Austin has also been grappling with a shortage of beds and other places for people to stay.

There are more than 5,500 people experiencing homelessness in Austin, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition dashboard. The city still needs 815 permanent shelter beds.

Gray said work is being done to add more permanent beds, but it has not been quick enough.

In the meantime, the facility is helpful for people who need a place indoors to sleep. The facility is at or nearly full most days, Gray said.

“I can be 100% honest and say if we did not have the Marshalling Yard open, these 300 individuals would most likely be on the street,” he said. “Where they don't have connection to services for their pets, where they don't have three guaranteed meals a day, where they don't have showers, they don't have laundry, they don't have ability to get case management.”

The need for permanent solutions

Council members expressed concern about extending the contract and spending more money on an approach that doesn't move all residents into more permanent housing.

The city set a goal of moving 70% of people who leave the shelter into an apartment or other permanent place. But only about 20% of people find permanent housing, Gray said.

He also said more people are staying longer, another indication that people need shelter.

When the shelter eventually closes, Alter said, the city will have to figure out what to do with the 300 people staying there. Thursday's vote calls for the city to create a "ramp-down plan" that includes establishing a date for when the shelter will have to stop accepting people and keeping data on where people will go.

“I have struggled with this item for quite some time knowing where we were headed with this in terms of how we address this element in our system," he said. "I am just trying to figure out how we can strike the right balance."

The move received support from the entire council.

To solve the homelessness issue, Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said, there has to be a wide array of options to fit the needs of people.

"The consequences of closing the Marshalling Yard are very real and very concerning," she said. "So I would very much like to see a solution or replacement for the Marshaling Yard well before operations are ramped down."

Gray said the goal is to place people into other shelters and housing as the contract wraps up.

Ultimately, though, until the city builds up other parts of the system — like permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing — there is a real and urgent need to continue operating the Marshalling Yard, he said.

“Part of the challenge with all of our shelters is having places to go,” Gray said.

He said the city is making investments in other parts of the system.

Last year, Austin bought, renovated and reopened the former Salvation Army shelter downtown. It is also working to increase beds in some of it other shelter spaces. The city and county are also working to open permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. An estimated 1,000 beds are expected to be ready by the end 2025. Gray said at least 400 of those should be ready this year.

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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