Austin leaders think about paying more deposits, rent for homeless

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will release his proposed budget for next year to City Council next Monday. More city leaders are beginning to support city taxpayers taking on a larger role to pay for apartments for Austin’s many homeless people.

In an interview with KXAN News, Mayor Steve Adler said he supported finding more resources to help pay for rent, deposits, and a “risk fund” to help with damages; similar to what he supported in a citywide effort to house homeless Veterans.

Monday, Cronk will give Austin a better picture of how many local resources will be used to combat homelessness after city council took the controversial step to decriminalize much of homelessness: panhandling, camping, and sitting in many public areas.

“There are landlords willing to bring in a lot of folks to apartment complexes if we can put somebody on-site to help with support services,” said Mayor Adler.

A snapshot of what is needed

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or the ARCH, should not be a permanent home. It was built for 100 people but it operates with nearly double that. The problem, says its Executive Director, is there are not enough homes available for the next step.

“We can be as housing-focused as we have the resources for. We’ve got cases managers that can help people get into housing. We need the dollars to help the transition actually happen,” said Greg McCormack, Executive Director of Front Steps, the organization that runs the ARCH.

McCormack says a model the city used for Veteran homelessness should be repeated for all homelessness— helping pay for someone’s eviction debt, deposit, rent, and support services.

In 2015, the City found homes for 200 homeless veterans through its “Housing Heroes” program. Most of the money came from federal vouchers, which covered up to $800 a month. That’s not enough for most rentals in Austin. Veterans provided what income they could. A “Housing Heroes” fund fueled by private donations made up any difference left.

“It’s support for a number of months until someone gets on their feet. Gets a job. Secures their income and then they take on the responsibility themselves,” said McCormack.

McCormack estimates that would cost $8-10,000 per person, per year to work people through the system. That’d be Austin taxpayers paying more than $2 million to get 250 people off the streets. Plus, an additional staff member to be a housing locator. He says it can be done with an 85% success rate.

“The overall goal is that we work with more individuals over the course of a year by helping people get into housing sooner, than just staying at the shelter,” said McCormack.

The city manager will propose a number next week. Then Council will work the budget over until final approval in September.

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