AUSTIN (KXAN) — The COVID-19 pandemic has cost many cities millions of dollars in lost revenue. Despite the difficult economic circumstances, the City of Austin is still planning to direct tens of millions of dollars toward combating homelessness.
The proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes approximately $60 million for homeless services.
According to the city’s budget documents:
- About a third, $20.5 million, will be used for preventing homelessness.
- About half, $31.9 million, will go toward crisis management services.
- And a smaller portion, $8.6 million, will be for programs related to providing permanent housing.
Service providers like Caritas of Austin and Ending Community Homeless Coalition told KXAN it’s great to see the city remain committed to reducing homelessness.
“That’s a major priority for us, because we already have a very strained homeless response system that’s under resourced, and you don’t ever want to get to a situation where more folks are ending up in experiencing homelessness,” said Matt Mollica, Executive Director of ECHO, about the funding that’ll help people stay in their homes.
However, the service providers worry homelessness will get worse due to the pandemic and still, much more resources will be needed.
Caritas of Austin is hearing from clients who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
“The homeless service provider community has been working for years to learn how to end homelessness, and we know how to do that,” explained Jo Kathryn Quinn, President and CEO of Caritas of Austin.
She said, “Caritas of Austin permanently ends homelessness for about 500 households each year… So this is not about learning how to do something. This is about scaling something that we already know how to do. It just needs to be bigger, and the whole community has to come together to make that happen.”
“To say that it’s enough is, you know, it’s never the case right now,” said Mollica. “We’ve seen disinvestment in from our federal government, from our state governments, across the board for the last several decades.”
The proposed $60 million is about $12 million less than what the city dedicated last fiscal year.
The difference went to “one-time investments” like helping to open the new Salvation Army shelter and buying the Rodeway Inn, which ECHO says is being remodeled, so it can house people.
However, it is more than what the city used to invest. Before last fiscal year, the city had about $35 million a year in the budget for homeless services.
The cost of homeless camp clean ups
Separately, the Austin City Council voted this week to approve a one-year contract to clean up homeless camps in areas that are under highways.
The cost is going up from $390,000 to $575,000.
In June, the Public Works Department picked up 64 tons of debris from 50 locations. City officials said that’s a lot more than normal, because they didn’t do the clean ups for three months due to COVID-19 concerns.
Overall however, they said the amount of trash being picked up has been increasing since last spring.
The city also has a Violet Bag program. It distributes purple trash bags at various encampments. People living in those areas can pick up their own trash and place it into the dedicated trash carts, which the city picks up daily.
Through that program, Austin Resource Recovery picked up:
- 0.3 tons of debris in January
- 0.7 tons in February
- 4 tons in March
- 7 tons in April
- 13 tons in May
- 21 tons in June
- 17 tons in July