Where will the people in Austin homeless encampments go?

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Unhoused individuals tell KXAN they aren’t sure where they’ll end up as a result of the city’s voter-approved camping ban. The new law went into effect Tuesday, the start of a phased approach centered on education and outreach.

“I want to know the reality of what’s going to happen to my brothers and sisters out here on the streets,” said Trisha English, who stays in a tent Downtown.

Austin is trying to find living arrangements for people. City Manager Spencer Cronk said Austin will enlist its nonprofit partners for more housing and homeless services. That’s in addition to the search for designated encampments.

“We’re progressively and actively looking for those alternatives,” Cronk said Tuesday.

But finding enough beds in short order won’t be easy. In the latest numbers from 2020, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) found there were more than 3,000 beds. All but about 300 were occupied.

That does not include the Salvation Army’s Rathgeber Center, which opened after the 2020 count. It also doesn’t include more than 300 beds at city-converted hotels known as “Prolodges,” which opened during the pandmic for people experiencing homelessness.

At the same time, it doesn’t take into account social distancing restrictions implemented at shelters during the pandemic, as recommended by the CDC.

“Our shelters are still operating at reduced capacity due to COVID,” said City Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey. “Even at full capacity we would not be able to accommodate individuals experiencing homelessness on the streets of our city.”

Grey said those shelter restrictions could relax if the city moves into a lower COVID-19 risk stage.

She added the city would offer vaccines to people who move into temporary housing since there is now less of a demand for shots.

ECHO is expected to release 2021 housing capacity numbers next week. City staff are expected to give the Austin City Council an update Friday on the search for city-owned land that could be used as designated encampment sites.

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