AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin set a lofty goal of effectively ending youth homelessness in the city by the end of 2020, and to do so city leaders are looking to what worked to end veteran homelessness four years ago.

“Austin knows what works,” said Darilynn Cardona-Beiler, director of adult behavioral health system with Integral Care, the mental health group that was instrumental in ending veterans homelessness. “We need to scale what we have.”

What works, she said, is the housing-first approach that her group and others focus on to get people off the street quickly, and then focus on connecting them to other services to treat the underlying reasons a person might be experiencing homelessness, such as mental illness or drug addiction.

In five years, Integral Care has been able to house more than 600 people with that approach, she said. In September, the group opened a 50-unit apartment complex in east Austin, reserving half the units for veterans experiencing homelessness.

By the end of 2019, it was full. If the city can scale those solutions, Cardona-Beiler said, it can effectively end not just youth homelessness, but all homelessness.

“We need access to deeply affordable housing,” she said, “and we need the resources to support the community providers for them to provide services to help individuals once they move into their homes.”

The motel plan

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is confident the city can achieve the goal of ending youth homelessness by December.

“We know exactly what we need to do,” he told KXAN Wednesday. By getting teens and children experiencing homelessness into shelters quickly, the city can address the root causes.

But it’s easy to rally people behind housing veterans and children, he acknowledged; in order to end homelessness altogether in the city, it will take sustained support.

“We need to take advantage of the moment and actually do what it takes to get people off the street,” he said.

The city is working to close on the purchase of a first motel to turn into a shelter, has identified a second, and is seeking more. “My hope is we get another two or three motels. I would love to have that happen by the end of February so that we can have those number of additional spots.”

The plan is already facing opposition; a group of property owners is suing the city to stop the second motel from being converted into a shelter.