AUSTIN (KXAN) — The coalition of business groups who want to put up a new temporary shelter for Austin’s homeless tells KXAN low early fundraising numbers will not stop their effort. Leaders at ATX Helps are banking on large donations from foundations, corporations, and non-profits in the weeks ahead.
Bill Brice from the Downtown Austin Alliance says the Sprung Shelter is still on track to be built by around March.
“I think that’s still realistic is things continue to come through and right now we’re starting to narrow down potential sites,” said Brice.
The ATX Helps Coalition, which includes the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, needs $3 million for capital costs to build the shelter. They have $50,000 from individuals.
And at the current pace, it would take them more than two decades to raise their ultimate goal of $14 million to build a new temporary shelter with wraparound services.
“We are talking to a number of six-figure, seven-figure essential donors. We have had some commitments made that we’re trying to button-down. So things are rolling along,” said Brice.
There’s still no specific location determined for the new shelter but the Brice tells KXAN they could consider as a backup the temporary shelter now along 183 and Montopolis, which is on Texas Department of Transportation land.
But what about homeless donation fatigue? With funding funneling through the city, ECHO, Salvation Army, the state, and ATX Helps: will the charitable dollars dry up?
“I really think that the opposite is more likely. Once we get some momentum and once the community sees that what all of us are doing, working together, state government, city government, all of the non-profit partners, private sector together,” said Brice.
Both Governor Greg Abbott and First Lady Cecilia Abbott have promoted ATX Helps fundraising efforts online. We reached out to the Governor’s office for a comment and have not heard back.
In a statement to KXAN, a media representative for ATX Helps says conversations with major donors are ongoing though and they are grateful to their fellow Austinites for the generosity they’ve already shown.
The coalition, led by Austin business leaders, faith-based organizations and the Downtown Austin Alliance, still hopes to raise the $14 million necessary to build and operate a Sprung navigation shelter for two years. Sprung shelters can be built in eight weeks and ATX Helps says each can hold about 150 bunk beds and comfortably sleep 300 people.
Back in November, ATX Helps told KXAN that the project is something Austin’s never had but desperately needs. The coalition said in its initial news release that if it raised $2 million in capital funds by the end of 2019, it would start construction on the first navigation center during the first quarter of 2020.
“We know that shelter alone does not solve homelessness, thus shelter and housing must always be considered in tandem,” said Dewitt Peart, President and CEO of Downtown Austin Alliance. “However, Austin currently only has 812 shelter beds, and on any given night when these beds are full, there are still 1,100 people living outdoors without a roof, bathroom, showers or laundry facilities.”
Austin has been riddled with increasing issues related to homelessness over 2019. Back in June, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance that largely decriminalized sitting, laying or camping in public places.
The changes were met with much criticism and debate, with some saying they exacerbated or exposed already growing problems.
In early October, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, explaining that unless something was done to address the issue by Nov. 1, he would direct state agencies to step in.
Then in November, the city council voted to restrict the polarizing ordinance. Changes included a ban on camping on sidewalks and a ban on sitting, lying or camping around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH).
In an interview with KXAN Tuesday, Matt Mollica, the executive director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) discussed ATX Helps and ECHO’s willingness to work with the coalition. Mollica said that ECHO would gladly welcome financial support from ATX Helps to assist in ECHO’s efforts to create new shelters.
“Absolutely,” said Mollica. “We are engaging and have engaged with the ATX Helps folks and will continue to work towards bringing in a shared mission and shared values into our work.”
As the city of Austin embarks on a new strategy of purchasing motels to convert into housing for the homeless, ECHO has volunteered to fund the operation of these new shelters and the services provided there.
There is no word yet on what lies ahead for ATX Helps’ plans at this time.