AUSTIN (KXAN) — After clearing people out from underpasses earlier this week, the state Thursday cleared out a place for them to go. Governor Abbott announced that state-owned land in east Austin. It can be used as a temporary shelter until a larger, 300-bed shelter can be built by the Austin business community.
The shelter will be on more than five acres of land near U.S. Highway 183 and Montopolis Drive and is the closest to downtown the state has available. The area is near neighborhoods of homes and trailer parks and within a few miles of an elementary school.
The governor’s office said the site is ready for use as of Thursday.
This all came together quickly. So many of the details are not fully baked at this moment. The spokesman for Governor Abbott tells KXAN this is meant to be temporary, a place for people to go instead of underpasses.
Food, clothing and other services will be spearheaded by the Catholic Charities of Texas. They confirmed they are working with the state on this but still working out the details.
The Texas Department of Public Safety will provide 24/7 security at the new campsite, and APD confirmed it will only respond if DPS asks for its help.
According to CapMetro, there will be no direct bus route from the property to downtown until January because of highway construction. CapMetro says TxDOT requested transportation help from the transportation authority Thursday because many resources for the homeless are downtown. A statement sent to KXAN Friday says, “We were contacted by the state with a request for transportation support to the temporary shelter. We are always willing to support our partners with transportation needs and have done so in the past. At this time, we have not made specific commitments or plans.”
Integral Care, which is a non-profit that provides case management for finding homes and healthcare confirms they will follow their clients out there to this location. However, they are still waiting on the overall plan on who will do what going forward.
Here’s the thing: there is a neighborhood of mobile homes right next door. We broke to news to some neighbors about this happening next door. Some were welcoming: “Hey they got to go somewhere.”
Others were upset.
“It’s kind of late you know. They don’t tell us what the hell is going on until they already decided themselves. They couldn’t come down here and told us about it,” said Irene Acosta, who lives next door.
It’s important to know that while this state-owned land is in the city of Austin, the city government is not a part of this. In fact, KXAN obtained a memo in August describing how staff did not want to make a move like this because staff believed it would be difficult to manage, maintain and while they are proposed as a “temporary” solution, they can be hard to close down.
Some who provide services for the homeless say they are skeptically optimistic. They question how it will work but also recognize a temporary shelter is needed to fill a large gap, as the city is looking toward longer-term housing solutions.
“The state came about it in a backwards way, because they came about it by moving people quickly and taking their things, and then trying to give them a place to be, which seems backwards,” said Director of Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center Mark Hilbelink.
Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted photos on Wednesday before and after TxDOT restarted its cleanups on Monday, the before photo showing trash on the ground, and the after showing the area cleaned up.
A statement from Gov. Abbott’s office Thursday said the location will include “portable restrooms, hand washing stations and comes with commitments from local charities to deliver food multiple times during the day.” It also said the location will provide “access to healthcare providers and homeless case workers to provide care for the homeless. “
Read the full statement below:
“Governor Abbott applauds the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and all who are supporting ATX Helps for their substantial effort to provide shelter and care for the homeless in Austin. Until that shelter opens, the State of Texas is providing a temporary location for homeless to camp. It is located on 5+ acres of land near Highway 183 and Montopolis. That area is the closest to downtown the State has available. The state-provided location includes portable restrooms, hand washing stations, and comes with commitments from local charities to deliver food multiple times during the day. This location will provide access to healthcare providers and homeless case workers to provide care for the homeless.”