AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is moving forward with two massive efforts to house people who are homeless.
One project, a large city warehouse — the Marshalling Yard near the airport — has rapidly been converted into roughly 300 emergency shelter beds. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson told KXAN Thursday the facility is already sheltering people, ahead of schedule.
A City of Austin spokesperson said the city is moving people from camps, including those that are high-wildfire risk and those surrounding the Marshalling Yard, to the facility starting this week. As of Thursday, roughly a dozen people are being housed there. Those numbers will increase over the next two to three weeks, the city said.
The other project, a years-long, city-funded conversion of the former Candlewood Suites motel in northwest Austin, will serve as permanent supportive housing for more than 70 homeless, elderly and disabled people under the eye of Family Eldercare.
That property has been empty since city council approved its purchase — using 2018 affordable housing bond dollars — in 2021. In June 2022, Austin City Council approved a contract with Family Eldercare to operate the property.
Next week, council could vote to extend its contract with Family Eldercare until March of 2024. Documents say the delay comes after Family Eldercare “discovered significant issues with the structure of the building, including mold, drainage, and fireproofing issues.”
“We are renewing the contract. We aren’t asking for more money, we are just requesting another green light to continue with this project,” said Dr. Aaron Alarcon, the CEO of Family Eldercare.
Alarcon said they expect to be done with construction around January of 2024 and to move people in shortly after. At that point Alarcon said the building will look “like a home for them, that is trauma informed, in a place that they can feel comfortable, where they can thrive.”
Emergency shelter vs. permanent supportive housing
Prior to Austin’s budget approval last week, much of the conversation surrounding city hall came from advocate’s asking the city to put more money towards permanent supportive housing, which are units that provide extensive wrap around services including substance use and mental health treatment.
That was one amendment the council member from District 5 brought forward.
“Without more deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing, we cannot solve our homelessness challenge. This amendment builds the capacity of that housing to help reduce the significant gap in housing that specifically serves people experiencing homelessness,” Council Member Ryan Alter said in a statement after the budget amendment passed.
The city has announced a number of large investments over the past few months — whether it be from the city, the state or through federal funding — toward emergency shelter beds: Whether that be the leasing of the former downtown Salvation Army location, the announcement that roughly 700 noncongregate beds would be created through a state grant or the opening of the Marshalling Yard.
Those are intended to be temporary, but put people in a continuum that gets them care and eventually lands them in permanent supportive housing.