KXAN Austin

Austin City Council members want to take another look at temporary camp sites on city land for homeless

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo and others are sponsoring a resolution to look into putting temporary campsites on city-owned land for people experiencing homelessness.

On the council’s message board, Tovo said in 2019 the council previously asked the city manager to find areas in Austin where people experiencing homelessness could safely camp, but the City Manager declined.

That same year, a report from the U.S Dept. of Housing and Urban Development cautioned communities from using sanctioned encampments because “limited evidence suggests that sanctioned encampments help to reduce homelessness.”

Tovo said the city’s “reality and our resources” have changed since then, and she feels now is the time to lay the groundwork, and do it quickly.

“We have a lot to learn about whether this will be a good strategy for Austin and, if so, how we can do it well,” she wrote on the message board. “We can’t afford to delay what could be an important component of our homelessness response system.”

The resolution reaffirms the city “create temporary designated campsites with services such as security, lighting, restrooms, and storage,” Tovo said. It also directs the City Manager to research best practices used by other municipalities across the country, look at where to put the campsites on land available to the city and figure out how much they cost.

Tovo said this could “ultimately be an effective strategy to provide safer spaces for our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” and pointed to her background of being the chairperson for the ECHO Membership Council and longtime advocacy for the homeless community.

The resolution will be discussed at Thursday’s council meeting. Along with Tovo, council members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Sabino Renteria and Mayor Steve Adler sponsor the resolution.

“Temporary, designated camping spaces are one way we can help mitigate the persistent safety risks for our unsheltered neighbors,” Tovo said. “This solution is not perfect — the ideal solution is more low-barrier and permanent supportive housing. I look forward to the discussion … on the dais on Thursday.”

Housing and Planning Committee move another housing plan ahead

A plan that emerged from a homelessness summit in April moved through the city’s Housing and Planning Committee on Monday and will be considered by the council at its May 20 meeting.

The plan’s goal is to house 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in the next three years. KXAN’s John Engel reported in order to house 3,000 people in three years, 2,300 rental units would be secured by offering incentives to landlords while another 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing would be developed.

There’s a funding gap of about $300 million, and it’s unclear how the slices of the pie would be divided between local governments and private partners. Austin City Council member Greg Casar hopes Austin and Travis County leaders officially make their commitments this summer.

“This plan, which would need support really from the city, the county, our philanthropic community, the private sector, nonprofits, everyone would have to come together if we want to execute such an ambitious plan,” Casar told KXAN.

ATX Helps pivots from sprung shelter plan

What started in 2019 as a plan to build “sprung shelters” to help house people experiencing homelessness by an Austin nonprofit is changing course.

Officials with ATX Helps started raising money in order to put the shelters up that could hold up to 300 people, but now their plan no longer includes them.

Instead, they are helping fund the homelessness plan just passed through the Housing and Planning Committee and are looking into funding micro-shelters and tiny homes, potentially.