City fa­cil­i­ties may be used as tem­po­rary home­less shel­ters

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Jankowski pjankowski@states­man.com

The Austin City Coun­cil on Thurs­day moved for­ward with a plan to re­search us­ing city fa­cil­i­ties as short-term shel­ters for home­less peo­ple.

The mea­sure comes amid the per­sis­tence of over­crowd­ing and drug use sur­round­ing the Austin Re­source Cen­ter for the Home­less down­town, where of­fi­cials last week an­nounced plans to in­crease the light­ing, po­lice pres­ence and street clean­ing. It also comes on the heels of Mayor Steve Adler’s pro­posal last month to in­crease ho­tel taxes as part of a “Down­town Puz­zle” plan that would pro­vide more money for home­less ser­vices in ad­di­tion to ex­pand­ing the Austin Con­ven- tion Cen­ter.

The lat­est res­o­lu­tion, which was ap­proved unan­i­mously Thurs­day with Adler and Coun­cil Mem­ber Sabino “Pio” Ren­te­ria ab­sent, di­rects city staffers to find five fa­cil­i­ties that could be used as short-term tem­po­rary shel­ters for home­less peo­ple.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Kathie Tovo, the item’s lead spon­sor, said the ef­fort was a part of a coali­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions that are look­ing at the prob­lem of peo­ple not­get­ting the ser­vices they need be­cause of drug use and over­crowd­ing at the ARCH.

“The shel­ter piece of it would re­ally be in sup­port of their ef­forts,” Tovo said. “They’re work­ing to­gether and work­ing re­ally closely to see how to re­ally change the sit­u­a­tion in the area around the ARCH. There’s a lot of over­crowd­ing there and a lot of peo­ple com­ing down­town. Some are seek­ing ser­vices. Some, unfortunately, are com­ing down­town to prey on those seek­ing ser­vices.”

Pro­po­nents be­lieve that shel­ter­ing more peo­ple would help on sev­eral fronts. It would re­move peo­ple from an en­vi­ron­ment where drug abuse, es­pe­cially of K2, is preva­lent; help those with men­tal health prob­lems get back on med­i­ca­tions more quickly; and bet­ter con­nect in­di­vid­u­als with ser­vices that could lead to perma- nent hous­ing.

The res­o­lu­tion — which calls for sim­ply ex­plor­ing op­tions — has no cost to tax­pay­ers. But this re­search could lead to some even­tual cost to the city, and some coun­cil mem­bers ap­pear in fa­vor of in­clud­ing more fund­ing to ad­dress is­sues re­lated to home­less­ness in next year’s bud­get.

A re­port from the End­ing Com­mu­nity Home­less- ness Coali­tion found that about 3,700 peo­ple in Austin ex­pe­ri­enced home­less­ness in 2016. More than one-third of those peo­ple were classi- fied as chron­i­cally home­less, and 305 of those house­holds had chil­dren.

The coun­cil last year adopted a res­o­lu­tion that would seek long-term so­lu­tions to home­less­ness in Austin, in­clud­ing look­ing at us­ing city-owned fa­cili- ties and prop­erty. This res­o­lu­tion now al­lows the staff to be­gin look­ing at fa­cil­i­ties that would be used in short­term emer­gency sce­nar­ios.

Staffers will come back to the coun­cil Aug. 24 with a list of fa­cil­i­ties that could poten

tially be used as tem­po­rary home­less shel­ters. Those fa­cil­i­ties will be ranked by safety, square footage, prox­im­ity to tran­sit and so­cial ser­vices. Those could in­clude fa­cil­i­ties such as recre­ation cen­ters, Tovo said.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Ora Hous­ton said this week that the Austin State Hos­pi­tal might be an­other place the city could ex­am­ine for tem­po­rary shel­ter use. But the res­o­lu­tion lim­its staff re­search to city-owned prop­er­ties.

Be­fore the coun­cil ap­proved the item, Coun­cil Mem­ber Ann Kitchen added an amend­ment that would make sure that ef­forts to house home­less peo­ple tem­po­rar­ily wouldn’t be con­cen­trated in down­town.

“The in­tent re­ally is ... to change what is go­ing on down there, to re­duce the over­crowd­ing, to en­cour­age peo­ple who don’t need to come down for ser­vices to seek those ser­vices else­where in the com­mu­nity,” Tovo said.

“But for those who are not cur­rently able to get a shel­ter bed at the ARCH or the Sal­va­tion Army, it’s to pro­vide that safe place to sleep dur­ing this ini­tia­tive.”

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Joe Quinones walks across East Sev­enth Street to­ward the Austin Re­source Cen­ter for the Home­less in mid-July. Over­crowd­ing there, as well as drug use and other crime in the area, has of­fi­cials search­ing for ad­di­tional home­less shel­ters.

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