Policy in the works for motel-turned-homeless shelter to be a ‘good neighbor’ to residents

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Although the exact location remains a secret, it appears Austin city leaders are already searching for a second motel to use as a homeless shelter.

Tuesday, at the Austin City Council work session, Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzalez told council members he’s looking all over the city.

About two and a half weeks ago, the council voted to purchase the Rodeway Inn near Interstate 35 and Oltorf Street. The city agreed to spend about $8 million to buy and renovate the motel, and Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) will operate the referral-only, low-barrier shelter.

The city of Austin has agreed to purchase the Rodeway Inn off of I-35 near Oltorf to be used as a homeless shelter. (KXAN/Alyssa Goard)

In a memo released on November 26, Gonzalez and staff members also outlined a plan to develop a “respectful neighbor policy.”

The document read:

“The purpose of such a policy is to ensure that ECHO staff and on-site service providers will work with neighbors and City departments to ensure that neighborhood concerns are addressed.

We will seek that ECHO staff participate in appropriate neighborhood and community meetings, have on-site staff available 24/7 to address on-site issues, and minimize disruptive behavior by having 24/7 security.

Through the lease or services agreement walk-ins will not be allowed, loitering in the immediate area will be discouraged, and the facility and immediate area will be cleaned frequently.”

Neighbors say “We just want to be part of the solution.”

When KXAN spoke with people who live or work near the Rodeway Inn, they said the city hasn’t reached out to them yet about the policy in the works.

Maria Pena, whose family owns Donn’s BBQ, said, in fact, while she gets notifications all the time about construction projects on I-35 and new permits being issued, she received “zero communication” about the Rodeway Inn turning into a homeless shelter.

“We just wanted answers,” she said. “We had a lot of questions, and we wanted answers. I felt like they voted too quickly on it without sitting down and talking to the people that live near the Rodeway Inn.”

Henri Daumas, President of the Timber Ridge Homeowners Association, said while he’s glad to hear about the respectful neighbor policy, “they should’ve done the outreach before.”

He said the neighbors want to know if police presence in the neighborhood will increase. Even though the city says there will be security at the shelter, they’re concerned about increased foot traffic in surrounding areas.

Daumas’ questions also included, “Who’s going to be able to just walk in? How long they can hang out [outside, around the shelter]? You know, who’s actually enforcing the don’t hangout policy.”

Melissa Quackenbush, who also lives in the neighborhood directly behind the Rodeway Inn, said, “We just want to be part of the solution. To be honest, we don’t have a whole lot of confidence in the city, in the decisions they’ve been making, and the way they’ve handled all of this, really rushing to these votes, not getting community input for them.”

The neighbors all said they want their voices heard as the city crafts a policy that’s supposed to help them.

Pena said, “Our concern is our customers. Them getting out of their car, walking inside, that’s what we’re concerned about. Safety. We want to be able to sit down and have those talks.”

Quackenbush said, “We need to look at this from a broader view and make sure the entire neighborhood is not negatively impacted by it. We want to end homelessness too, so this is an opportunity for us to be part of the solution.”

In depth: other cities’ good neighbor agreements

The city memo said other communities like Orange County and Santa Clara, California, Toronto, Canada and Portland, Oregon, have implemented similar “Good Neighbor Policies.”

Online, we found a copy of an agreement A Home For Everyone uses in Portland. Oregon.

The document said various groups, such as police and businesses near the shelter, all participated in developing the policy.

In it, the shelter agrees to provide 24/7 support for its guests, but also “field questions and concerns brought to shelter staff” by neighbors or other members of the public.

It also said the shelter will set rules against littering and discourage large gatherings in public areas.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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