How can Austin fix its homeless crisis faster? Easier donations could help

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Austin City Council members meet next week after their summer break, they’ll try to tackle a very complex issue: Austin’s homeless crisis.

Council Member Kathie Tovo is proposing a resolution to create a local government corporation, or LGC, “to accomplish the governmental purpose of addressing homelessness in Austin.”

State law allows cities to create LGCs, which can act like nonprofits and collect donations or take out loans.

“It will provide the city with more flexibility,” Tovo explained. “We can apply for grants. We can be a little more nimble if we want the LGC to make purchases, purchase land or purchase structures.”

She said LGCs also provide the public a focused place to give.

“I often encounter people who say, ‘Can you advise me who I might donate to?’, and I can’t really answer that question because it would be supporting one, suggesting one nonprofit over another.”

Tovo said other cities like Atlanta and Dallas use LGCs.

“It has to be a partnership that really largely involves individuals in our community, private companies, private business,” said Tovo. “We need much more significant participation from our business community if we’re going to end homelessness in the city. We just have too much need for resources.”

Nonprofits agree, funding is important

Many nonprofits told KXAN the city needs to act now to make sure our homeless population doesn’t get any larger.

Greg McCormack, Executive Director of Front Steps, said: “It’s taking an incredible amount of work to even keep it at that level with population growth that’s happened in Austin. I think we’re at pretty close to a crossroad where we have to do something or that number could increase considerably.”

Front Steps manages the downtown shelter, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

“We’re all working really hard to help the people that are homeless right now and we’re not making as much of a dent as we’d like to, so we’ve got to increase the effort,” McCormack said.

According to McCormack, programs like “Rapid Rehousing” are successful, but they cost money.

“It’s a cost of about $5,000 to $8,000 per individual to help them get back into housing, help them remain stable for a period of time, and then the services go away,” he explained. “And the person remains in the house. It’s shown that works for 85% of the individuals.”

Ann Howard, Executive Director of Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), said funding is needed to address homelessness, saying, “It needs money, and so this LGC is really a funding mechanism, so that the city can attract and leverage dollars.”

She added: “I’m excited about it because we need dedicated funding for homelessness so that we’re not fighting over the crumbs at the end of the budgeting cycle.”

Howard was cautious, however.

“The thing I don’t want it to become is just another planning body,” she said.

Many nonprofits also said they don’t want the LGC to compete for funding against them, but rather work together to help address issues associated with homelessness.

Tovo responded, “This is not going to be a planning body. It is going to be a fundraising body. My intent is that we raise the pool of funding that’s available so that we can provide that back to nonprofit organizations in this community.”

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