AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin has plans to turn a motel currently being used as a place for high-risk people to stay during the pandemic into a temporary homeless shelter.

Earlier this month, the Homeless Strategy Division laid out plans for the first phase of the city council’s Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative, designed to address unsheltered homelessness in Austin. The south Austin shelter is part of that plan.

“We got here based on his health issues,” said Deirdra Strohl. “It’s way better than living on the streets.”

After five years of living outside in Austin. Strohl and her boyfriend have found temporary shelter in south Austin.

“We moved here from Ohio a while back, and we’ve traveled all over,” said Strohl. “Nowhere else is doing anything like this.”

For eight months now, Strohl and her boyfriend have been staying at the south Austin hotel to get them off the streets during the pandemic.

The hotel formally known as the Roadway Inn located at 2711 S. Interstate 35 is now being called the Southbridge shelter. It will soon open up to more people outside of providing a safe haven from COVID-19.

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey has identified the proposed location of a ‘bridge shelter’ program for people moving out of encampments as part of the Austin City Council’s HEAL initiative.

Bridge shelter provides a temporary, transitional place to stay, often when an individual has been offered permanent housing, but access to that housing is still being arranged.

The current plans are contingent upon council approving them next month.

The land was purchased by the city in April 2020 using Federal Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and has operated as a COVID-19 shelter since August 2020.

“Providing immediate access to very low-barrier shelter with direct connections to housing resources is integral to the success of the HEAL strategy to help end unsheltered homelessness,” said Grey, who briefed council on the plan Tuesday.

The shelter is currently undergoing renovations, but if approved operations start at the end of May 2021.

The new Southbridge shelter will include the following features: 

  • On entering the shelter clients will be immediately connected with case workers tasked with linking them to rapid rehousing, which means they would ultimately move on to apartments across the city with rental assistance and ongoing case management supports.
  • This is an invitation-only shelter and will NOT be walkup, avoiding the need for people to congregate outside the property every day to secure a bed or seek other types of services. Clients will be offered rooms to stay in and receive assistance as they progress into permanent housing. Their expected stay at the bridge shelter is temporary, not indefinite.
  • The property will have on-site security, staffed 24 hours a day, and a new fence will be installed.
  • The property has 87 rooms and each room has a bathroom. Some rooms will be used as offices and meeting spaces. The capacity of the property is likely to be limited due to COVID-19.

Under the plan, the sites of four encampments in south central, east, downtown, and northwest Austin would be established as non-camping areas by the end of August.

The City of Austin has set aside a preliminary budget of $4.3 million for shelter, case management, housing and other support.