AUSTIN (KXAN) — The building just off Interstate 35 in south Austin near Oltorf Street used to be a motel. Then, the city bought it to use as a homeless shelter, but it first became a place for high-risk people to stay during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s a temporary home to help people experiencing homelessness find stability, and it welcomed its first guests under that mission this week.
About 15 people who had lived at a camp near the Terrazas Branch Library on East Cesar Chavez Street have moved into the Southbridge facility since Tuesday, the City of Austin said. The city is working to put up a temporary fence where the camp used to be to discourage others from moving in, as the spot is not approved for camping under a camping ban voters passed in May.
The City of Austin approved a Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link initiative earlier this year. Moving residents into this city-owned Southbridge facility is part of phase one, in which people are being moved from known camps in four areas of Austin and connected with places to stay. Those camps are then being cleared in four weeks or less, the city said.
The first phase of the HEAL initiative will cost at least $4.3 million, according to a city update in April.
A total of 75 people will be able to stay at Southbridge, which will also connect them with resources to help them be successful, including a caseworker who can walk them through different options. It also has 24/7 staffing and security on site.
The city of Austin bought the property in 2019, intending to use it as a homeless shelter. It provided assistance and moving money to the 11 people living there in April 2020 and worked to convert it to a shelter. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it became a space to stay for people experiencing homelessness who were at high-risk for COVID-19 complications. This was separate from the city’s isolation hotel, where people with COVID-19 could stay as they recovered and quarantined.