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Texas Lawmakers Push to Close the Austin State Supported Living Center

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune
The Sunset Advisory Commission suggested closing the doors of the Austin State-Supported Living Center yesterday.

Yesterday, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission recommended closure for the Austin State Supported Living Center and five other similar centers among the 13 across the state that care for physically and cognitively disabled Texans.

While some residents have lived in these homes for decades and know no other home, lawmakers cite a history of abuse and neglect, waning enrollment numbers and a statewide shift to community-supported models in arguments to shutter the homes.

The Sunset Advisory Commission is in charge of looking at which state agencies are obsolete. Then, Texas lawmakers have the authority to phase them out.

Texas State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, argued the Austin State Supported Living Center is old, and its population shrinking.

"There seems to be no waiting lists for state supported living centers," he said at Wednesday's hearing.

Those words hit the family of 33-year-old Justin Wallace hard. His mother, Debra Wallace, says her son is on the severe end of the autism spectrum and cannot live in a group home. She says few people understand what severe autism looks like in an adult. "When you have an Autistic child, the world is sympathetic," Wallace says, "[but,] when you see an Autistic man and have to deal with an Autistic man, it's a whole different story."

Justin Wallace requires constant supervision.

His mother Debra remembers how many times he's injured himself. "By the time he was 18 he was putting his head through walls and windows. [He] got up one night in the middle of the night turned on the stove and almost set himself on fire."

By September, Justin Wallace, along with more than 70 other residents are expected to move out of the Austin State Supported Living Center. By November, the center will be all but vacant. Lawmakers are considering selling the high-value property, at 35th  Street and MoPac.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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