AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the Salvation Army announced it was permanently closing its homeless shelter downtown, which dedicated beds to women and children, the City of Austin is working to lease the space from the nonprofit and make the beds available again.
This week, Austin City Council will vote on a one-year agreement with the Salvation Army to lease the space starting July 1. It would cost the city roughly $1.2 million, a large chunk of which will come from the Austin Public Health budget, according to council documents.
Another resolution could expand the city’s contract with Urban Alchemy, the group that runs the ARCH shelter nearby, to include operating and providing social services at the Salvation Army shelter.
The currently empty shelter sits in District 9 near the Austin Police headquarters in Council Member Zohaib Qadri’s district.
“The city needs more shelter capacity. We have about 4,000-5,000 unhoused folks in this city. We truthfully don’t have enough space currently for all those bodies,” Qadri said.
Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) data released last month showed even though the number of people experiencing homelessness in the downtown district is going down — largely due to Austin’s passing of its camping ban — it still had the highest number of people experiencing homelessness reported during the HUD-required Point in Time (PIT) count.
The shelter’s reopening is something the Downtown Austin Alliance said is much needed in the area. The group said it hopes Urban Alchemy is able to make the shelter as safe inside and outside as they have with ARCH.
“And that takes more than just the operator. That takes city support, police support to ensure that the area remains safe. It takes other efforts to make sure that the area remains clean,” Bill Brice said, praising Urban Alchemy for its work with ARCH.
The city said contract negotiations will determine who will be allowed to stay at the shelter. The shelter previously housed a significant number of women and children, something Felicia, a woman we met outside of the shelter, said is much needed downtown.
Felicia told KXAN she is a victim of human trafficking and she’s currently sleeping on sidewalks downtown.
“They need to do more for women. They’re not doing enough,” she said.