AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several city leaders discussed a project Wednesday to convert a hotel into Austin’s first family violence shelter in more than a decade, which would be made possible by the city’s decision to reallocate some police funding.
Mayor Steve Adler, council members Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen, Paige Ellis, Kathie Tovo and Alison Alter, County Attorney Delia Garza and District Attorney José Garza held a news conference with The SAFE Alliance, a local family violence prevention organization. They talked about a proposed $8.1 million investment in a new shelter.
The money, they said, will be part of the city’s efforts to “Reimagine Public Safety.”
The council will vote at Thursday’s meeting on this shelter project. Once members get approval, they said the city will work toward an agreement with The SAFE Alliance to manage the city-owned shelter and provide various services.
Kelly White, co-chief executive officer for The SAFE Alliance, said this new partnership with the city would help double the organization’s shelter capacity, which she called “huge.”
The shelter would be in a renovated hotel building. Casar said the city has not finalized which hotel will be used for the shelter. It could be one the city already owns or a new property it chooses to buy. Once chosen, the city will not publicize the exact location due to safety concerns for survivors.
“This vote will save lives for survivors of child abuse, sexual assault, exploitation and domestic violence,” he said.
SAFE can currently house about 90 women and children at a time. SAFE leaders said at any given time, there are just as many people on the waitlist needing shelter.
“When people reach out to us, and they’re literally in life or death situations, we need to be able to get them into shelter,” said SAFE Board Chair Nelia Robbi.
“Basically, we are taking those that are at absolute highest lethality risk,” said White. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take some of those before it gets to that point?”
Several council members said this action is connected to the city’s larger response to homelessness, because those experiencing it are often victims of family violence, too.
The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition said about 70% of people on Austin’s streets report their homelessness was caused by trauma or abuse.
“They’re often forced to leave their homes very quickly, faced with limited options for safe, affordable housing,” said council member Tovo.
“As a community we have to do everything we can to prevent, to mitigate violence and crime and homelessness before it happens,” Adler said.
If council members approve the resolution to move forward with the shelter Thursday, city money would immediately begin going toward housing people in the most urgent danger. SAFE said until the new shelter is ready, it would be able to use that money to shelter 30 to 50 more people than it currently can in safe spaces across the city.