Image courtesy / City of Austin

It’s slow-going at City Hall as the Austin City Council trudges through its agenda.

A lengthy executive session has kept the council off the dais since this afternoon. And some marquee items have been postponed until this evening: The sale and redevelopment of the former Green Water Treatment Plant site downtown (Items 12 and 13) won’t be heard until at least 6:30 p.m.

And Item 22, which would allow Austin Pets Alive to occupy the entire Town Lake Animal Center won’t be heard until at least 6 p.m.  Similarly, a public hearing on new regulations for short-term rentals by homeowners (Item 140) has been postponed to June 7. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Wooldridge Square, a small park between the Travis County Courthouse and Austin's Central Library downtown, will be closed for eight months starting in June.

The city is also reaching out to a few homeless people who live in the park, and referring them to social services. Austin's Department of Health and Human Services is asking local homeless service organizations to post this flyer in their offices.

“I’m not happy about the closure, and I don’t know if it’s really worth the effort,” homeless man Bruce Kline told KUT News. He said he’s lived in the park for about two years and doesn’t want to live in a homeless shelter. “They’re supposed to have people come out and tell us where to go once the park closes, but they haven’t yet.” 

Photo courtesy Craig O'Neal, flickr.com/36703550@N00

Springsteen Delivering Keynote at SXSW Music

Need another sign South by Southwest Music is underway? 

Bruce Springsteen will give his SXSW keynote speech tomorrow at the Austin Convention Center, noon.  KUT will stream the talk live, and later than night, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will perform in Austin via a special ticket drawing.

You can follow KUT’s continuing SXSW coverage on this blog and at kut.org.

Photo courtesy Valerie Romness

Leslie Cochran – a homeless, cross-dressing exemplar of Austin weirdness immortalized in countless stories and photos, plus advertisements, refrigerator magnets, and runs for public office – has “chosen to shuffle off this mortal coil,” according to friends overseeing Cochran’s stay in hospice care.

As KUT News previously reported, Cochran was in intensive care after being found unconscious in a South Austin parking lot approximately two-and-a-half weeks ago. He was transferred to an unnamed hospice facility this weekend, KUT noted yesterday.

Local activist Debbie Russell has served as a family spokesperson. In an update this morning, she writes:

He has chosen to shuffle off this mortal coil, and is doing so in grace and dignity, Leslie-style...as he's done all else in life …

He is comfortable in hospice care (where he is in amazing hands), and is in no pain according to the nurses who monitor him often. He has slipped back into semi-consciousness -for the most part- but we believe he hears his loved ones surrounding him.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/chainsawpanda

Contrary to recent reports that transgendered homeless icon Leslie Cochran was moving to Colorado, Leslie is still in Austin. And according to a statement from friends and family, Cochran is currently recuperating in an area hospital.

Local activist Debbie Russell says she is a spokesperson for Cochran and a relative. Russell sent out a release this morning:

Photo by KUT News

Last year, 2,362 homeless people were counted in the combined Austin–Round Rock area. This Sunday, the 2012 count of Austin’s homeless begins, and count organizers still need volunteers.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) needs people to travel parts of Austin and report the number of homeless, and volunteers to help enter the data they collected.

ECHO describes the work in more detail:

Teams of volunteers will canvas Travis County to count homeless men, women and children in the area to get an accurate sum of the homeless population to help secure federal funding, which provides resources for the county’s homeless service providers. The results of the count will include demographics, reasons for homelessness and trends in homelessness to compare with previous data to assess and improve community performance in preventing and ending homelessness.

Photo by Ian Crawford/KUT News

Happy New Year! A warm start to 2012 brought crowds to Auditorium Shores for ring out the old year, it brought some warm news to Ron Paul's presidential aspirations just ahead of Iowa GOP caucuses and 2012 could bring some warmth to people living on Austin's streets.

Austin Welcomes 2012

Photo courtesy of House the Homeless.

Austin’s House the Homeless is hoping to keep the homeless warm with its annual Thermal Underwear Drive. On Monday, the non-profit will hand out free thermal underwear to the homeless. Thermals are easier than blankets for homeless people to carry with them.

Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, estimates there are about 4,000 homeless people in the Austin metropolitan area.

Photo by Erik Reyna, KUT News

A homeless man who lived on the Drag was found dead on the street the same day a Veterans Affairs caseworker went to notify him he was going to get housing, the Austin American-Statesman reports today

72-year-old Kevin Hawk, pictured above, had been homeless for 40 years and was a regular fixture in the area. His art was on display at Tom's Tabooley, according to Andrea Ball’s report in the Statesman.

Hawk had been identified in a study conducted last month to identify who among Austin’s homeless population is most at risk of dying. The 100 Homes Campaign interviewed almost 300 homeless people.

Photo by dground http://www.flickr.com/photos/dground/

An emergency program to provide homeless people with a warm place to sleep was activated this week as temperatures plummeted below freezing and shelters approached maximum capacity.

When the weather dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit – or 35 degrees with extenuating circumstances (extreme wind or rain, for example) – the cold weather shelter system is activated. It was put into effect the last two nights, and will be activated again tonight, with temperatures forecast to drop to 30 degrees.

It all starts with a lottery at 5:15 p.m. today outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), a mens-only shelter at the corner of East Seventh and Neches Streets downtown. Numbers are drawn from a bucket to allocate sleeping spaces inside a local church. The men are transported to the church by Capital Metro bus.

Photo by KUT News

Low temperatures tonight in Austin are expected to hover in the mid 30s. Between that and the damp conditions brought on by the weekend's rain, FrontSteps, the group that runs Austin's Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), will implement their cold weather action plan tonight.

With Veterans Day one week away, we wanted to bring you the story of a veteran who suffered through homelessness. So we sent videographer Jeff Heimsath to interview Jeffery Anderson.

Anderson currently lives in Temple, and he served more than five years of active duty in the United States Army, including two tours in Iraq. But when his wife became ill when pregnant with their fourth child, she needed his help at home.

Anderson says he asked the Army to be placed on rear detachment for three months until the baby was delivered. But he was told to choose his family or the Army.

Photo courtesy of jennfinley at http://flickr.com/people/jennfinley/

One in four gay, lesbian or transgender teens and 15 percent of bisexual teens are homeless, according to a study issued by the American Journal of Public Health. This is in contrast to three percent of heterosexual teens who are homeless. The study was made up of 6,300 Boston, Mass. public high school students.

Photo by City of Austin

People who meet the income requirements can apply to purchase one of twelve newly constructed homes in a southeast Austin subdivision. The three-bedroom/two-bathroom homes were built with federal money and offer these features:

  • $110,000 price (homes are valued at $120,000)
  • Zero percent interest
  • No money down
  • 10-year home warranty
  • High energy efficiency

The income requirements are calculated as a multiple of federal poverty guidelines.  A single individual making $25,850 would qualify for the zero percent interest program. A family of six with combined income of $42,850 would also qualify. People who make more than that could possibly apply for down payment assistance.

The new homes, announced today, have already attracted a lot of attention. "The phones have literally been ringing off the hook," City of Austin spokesperson Jill Goodman told KUT News.

Photo by DJ-Dwayne http://www.flickr.com/photos/dj-dwayne/

With a heat wave blasting Austin with triple-digit temperatures earlier than usual, two local non-profits have learned they will be receiving a total of 76,000 bottles of water to hand out to the city’s homeless population.

Photo by KUT News

A non-profit organization that manages one of the largest homeless shelters in Central Texas has hired a new chief. Jim Ormand started on Monday as the new executive director of Front Steps, which manages the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless downtown at the corner of Neches and E. 7th St.


Downtown resident Geoffrey Smith is not a social worker.  He has lived in a high rise condominium for three years, and this spring, he tried to help a homeless man in his neighborhood get off the streets. But Smith encountered some of the same road blocks that have been frustrating homeless advocates for years. Here is the story, from a letter he wrote:

The man is a chronic alcoholic with a history of more than 10 years on the streets of Austin. He approached me one day, and he was shaking. I noticed he had been beaten up. He was completely shattered.

Photo by Paulo Martins / KUT

The City Council has unanimously approved what it calls an improvement to an existing ordinance that  prohibits people from sitting and lying in sidewalks and in front of buildings.

The ordinance will become effective starting on the 1st of May.

Opponents pointed out that the ordinance did not provide exemptions in instances of extreme weather. Richard Troxell, who heads House the Homeless, called it a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Erik Reyna

Before organizers can take a census of Austin's homeless community, they count volunteers.

This year they're coming up short.

One-hundred more people are needed Sunday from 1 pm to 7 pm to gather demographic information on who is homeless in Austin and Travis County.  Homeless advocates say the annual count is essential to show the city, county and nonprofit groups where to allocate their resources to best serve the area's most vulnerable community.  The numbers are also used to calculate the amount of federal funding Austin receives for certain aid programs.

Image by Erik Reyna for KUT News

People at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless are handing out more than 200 blankets at 1 p.m. today. The cold weather has created a huge demand for blankets among homeless people, and Austinites have donated generously, ARCH interim executive director Mike Abkowitz told KUT News.

"We've been distributing blankets throughout the cold weather season, but we know there's just more and more need," Abkowitz said.

Image courtesy skys the limit2 http://www.flickr.com/photos/52949402@N03/

Dallas is getting revved up to host Superbowl XLV on February 6, 2011, and yesterday the Dallas City Council voted to prohibit people from begging for change in the downtown business district.

Image courtesy Google Maps

One of the largest charitable Thanksgiving efforts in town starts tomorrow morning in the parking lot of Bikini's off I-35.  Operation Turkey started in Austin in 2000 and has since expanded to 29 cities across the country.

Thanksgiving meal
Image courtesy KK+ http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/

If you haven't done it, you've seen it on TV: People serving Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate. Many families make it a holiday tradition. But if you don't know what you're doing, you might show up to a charity already overwhelmed with volunteers, while other organizations are struggling to find last-minute help.

One of the hottest tickets in town is the Salvation Army Social Service Center on East 8th Street. Their spokesman Bob Cox says they were booked solid by Labor Day.

Homeless woman
Image courtesy Arty Smokes http://www.flickr.com/photos/artysmokes/

How Domestic Violence Often Leads to Homelessness

It's National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week, and the local non-profit SafePlace is hosting a discussion this afternoon about the relationship between domestic violence and homelessness. 

homeless man in austin
Photo by Erik Reyna for KUT News

Austin City Manager Marc Ott made news this week when he revealed that he voluntarily went homeless for 24 hours a few months ago. Ott said he wanted to experience firsthand what it was like to live on the streets.

An APD officer who said, "We're gonna chase them out of town," in reference to homeless people is now backing off his remarks in an interview with KUT News.

"I don't want to say it was totally taken out of context," Christ told KUT. "I said, 'We can't chase them out of town, but we may be able to chase them out of a particular neighborhood.'"

homeless person in austin
Photo by Erik Reyna for KUT News

Homeless advocates are reeling this morning after comments made by an APD police officer to KVUE TV.  TV cameras followed APD officers as they shut down a homeless camp near Ben White and South Congress.  Police told KVUE that they were acting on complaints from local businesses.