Austin homeless advocates help develop permanent, supportive housing solutions

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Summer Wright has turned her life experience into advocacy. She has been a voice in the fight for helping those experiencing homelessness. She too was homeless on and off for six years.

“I tried going to school and it didn’t work out because my mental health was poor, I was escaping abuse and didn’t have the space to process that,” Wright explained.

She tried to stay at homeless campsites. When rapid-re-housing entered the picture, things began to change for her. She says the transition wasn’t easy, but she hasn’t been homeless since last April.

“Designated campsites are not housing. The way I’ve been able to gain stability through housing, involved having my own space, having a door with a lock and a key,” said Wright. “Finding work, getting access to mental health services that I needed helped things improve.”

Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo along with council members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Sabino Renteria and Mayor Steve Adler are sponsoring a resolution to look into putting temporary campsites on city-owned land for people experiencing homelessness.

The resolution will be discussed at Thursday’s council meeting.

“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.”

Meanwhile, advocates like Wright are working with a coalition of other advocates and city leaders to find more permanent housing for those who are unhoused. Their goal is to house 3000 people in the next three years.

Wright says she believes that the city does not need designated campsites and she thinks they are a harm reduction measure against Proposition B for some unhoused people. She feels the investments should go to permanent solutions.

“The only reason I would say that they [designated campsites] can fit into our system now is because people are going to be fined for existing outside of designated campsites. Anything that prevents people from getting a record for just existing, is better than nothing, but where we should apply our funding is housing,” Wright said.

Other organizations, like Caritas of Austin, are working to provide a more permanent solutions. By this summer, the agency will start on Espero at Rutland in north Austin.

“The property will have a robust set of support services professionals, employment professionals and education professionals,” said Jo Kathryn Quinn, president and CEO Caritas of Austin.

The goal is to house 171 people who experienced homelessness by 2022. Advocates hope these permanent solutions will pave the way, for a growing issue.

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