Local NewsAustin Business Leaders Launch Temporary Homeless Shelter Plan

After months of contention over the city's handling of the homeless problem, community and private sector leaders are starting on the road toward solutions.
November 7, 2019
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On Thursday, business leaders gathered at the Austin Chamber of Commerce announced a $14 million effort to bring a new temporary shelter to Austin. The initiative is called ATX Helps.

Flanked by Dewitt Peart of the Downtown Austin Alliance, Leah Hargrave of Mosaic Church, and Chris Turnley of the Austin Bridge Builders Alliance, chairman of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Brian Cassidy, called it, “The answer for someone who wants to get off the street now, and this addresses the most immediate and visible gap in Austin’s current efforts.”

The proposed shelter is a Sprung structure which has an aluminum skeleton and a cloth outer layer. They are designed to be quickly built and taken down. The planned structure will be able to house 300 people.

The thought behind the structure is to have a laid-back, low barrier to entry place where homeless people can stay for a short time. A point of emphasis was the necessity for a shelter that does not have the usual restrictions such as allowing pets, not requiring sobriety, and permitting couples to enter together.

The community leaders said the idea was inspired by one in San Diego which they visited in 2017.

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It is intended to provide a temporary place of housing during a transition from living outside to getting back on their feet. The group said at the facility in San Diego the average stay lasted between 90 and 120 days.

The structure will cost about $2 million to build and additional services will be provided such as showers, laundry machines, alcohol and drug addiction services, and even a complimentary veterinarian service was mentioned. 

ATX Helps hopes to have the funding for the structure raised by the end of this year and begin the project early next year.

The facility will also have storage capabilities for occupants to keep their possessions without fear of theft. It will be air-conditioned, heated, and will have 24-hour security.

Once up, ATX Helps hopes to have enough funding to last two years.

Currently, permanent housing facilities have been backlogged and the State of Texas has commenced cleaning out the underpass encampments resulting from the City of Austin’s public camping ordinance. 

The group stated they have already received significant interest from the business community for funding and say they are optimistic about hitting their goal.

As of now, neither the state nor the City of Austin is explicitly involved in the effort — although, they did say the governor’s office had been in contact about land on which to place the shelter. No location has been identified at the moment, but the group aims to move quickly on it.

At a press conference immediately thereafter, Governor Abbott’s office announced a plan to provide over five acres of land near Highway 183 and Montopolis Drive for homeless in the city to camp — until the Sprung shelter can be raised. 

“This is the right thing to do and it’s necessary for the community,” Cassidy added.

Before the homeless problem spirals out of control, Austin’s private sector leaders hope to reproduce the successful effort made by their counterparts in California’s City in Motion before Austin resembles that state’s City of Angels.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.

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