Austin Chamber announces new coalition raising $14 million for temporary homeless shelter

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new coalition, announced by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Austin Alliance Thursday, is raising millions to fund a new temporary emergency shelter for people who are homeless.

The coalition, known as ATX Helps, wants to raise $14 million for Austin’s first Sprung shelter. Sprung homeless navigation shelters have been implemented in numerous cities in North America including San Francisco and Toronto.

The coalition told KXAN this is something Austin has never had, but desperately needs.

“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.”

Sprung shelters can be built within eight weeks. According to ATX Helps, each can hold about 150 bunk beds and comfortably sleep 300 people. They also include storage for personal items.

Sprung shelter in San Diego (Photo Courtesy: Downtown Austin Alliance)

Cost breakdown

The ATX Helps coalition is being led by Austin business leaders, faith-based organizations and the Downtown Austin Alliance.

They said it’ll cost about $2 million to build the shelter. In San Diego, California, they said the shelter spends $61 per bed per night. The $14 million they’re hoping to raise is for the structure and operating it for two years.

“The structure’s a very small part of that,” explained Chris Turnley with Austin Bridge Builders Alliance. “Putting in the navigation services and all the services, food services that wrap around are the majority of that cost.”

What still needs to be done

A big challenge the coalition faces already is finding a vacant plot of land.

“We really just need basically a plot of vacant land somewhere, which unfortunately, as much as Austin’s booming, it’s hard to find in the Central Business District, so we’re looking at all options that we can find,” said Brian Cassidy, Chairman of Austin Chamber of Commerce.

The coalition hopes to find something close to downtown, so it’ll be easier for people to access.

Then they’ll need the city’s help to get the right permit fast.

“In our conversations with the city so far, they’re going to support us in expediting whatever needs to be done to bring this on as quickly as possible,” said Peart. “That’s part of what we’ll be asking the city to do, help us bring these on quicker than what would normally be expected.”

The shelter will be a low-barrier shelter, meaning it’ll be co-ed, allow pets and welcome those who have problems with drug or alcohol.

The coalition said as long as you can walk to a bed and aren’t a danger to yourself or others, you’ll be welcome. The plan is to have service providers to on site to connect people to the help they need.

“Service providers haven’t been identified with specificity. We’re in the early stages of this process, but there’s a number of potential candidates and discussions have been had already with potential service providers,” said Cassidy.

Different than a camp site

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office also announced Thursday that the state would provide a temporary five-acre tract of land for the homeless to camp near U.S. Highway 183 and Montopolis Drive. They said it would include portable restrooms, hand washing stations, health resources, food and access to case workers.

Peart said, “A camp site is not a shelter, and a camp site does not provide all of the wrap around services that are needed, so I would just caution us all. Although a camp site may be a temporary way to accommodate people’s needs with restrooms, it’s still all of the other services required to make this work.”

The coalition said the Sprung shelter fits the City of Austin’s “Housing First” model.

Peart said, “One of the challenges moving people who’re chronically homeless from the street right into an apartment is a feeling of entrapment. These facilities have a really different kind of feel to it.”

The coalition explained, “When you talk about sheltering, this is step one because this is low barrier.”

They said in San Diego, people stay on average 90 to 120 days before moving onto more permanent supportive housing.

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