Before moving to phase 3 of the camping ban enforcement, Austin is still researching housing options for the homeless

The third phase of the application of Proposal B is expected to begin on July 11 and the next municipal staff report on immediate housing options will be released on July 22. (Ben Thompson / Community Impact Newspaper)

Days before Austin’s transition from phase two to phase three of implementing Proposition B, the city is still working to identify options to shelter the hundreds of homeless residents who remain on the streets, although the prospects for possibilities such as sanctioned campsites could become clearer. later this month.

The move from Phase 2 to Phase 3 of the city’s camping ban implementation will primarily focus on citing public campers who have already received written warnings from officers in the Austin Police Department. The period, which is expected to run from July 11 to August 11. 7, could escalate into arrests for those camping in “dangerous” areas such as those near major roads or areas at risk of fire or flooding.

Ahead of this weekend’s move to Phase 3, the Austin Public Safety Commission heard from several city and community representatives on July 6 who spoke about the state of the homeless crisis. in Austin. Among the speakers on July 6 was Bill Brice, vice president of investor relations for the Downtown Austin Alliance, who shared information on the work of the downtown homeless rights group and on the subject. places where homeless people can move.

“This is a major concern of the Downtown Austin Alliance, of those we represent, of the people who own, manage and occupy properties in downtown Austin, particularly among our visitor industry,” said declared Brice. “There are still a significant number of homeless people who are homeless. I think the key question that needs to be answered is … where can people go? And we … still don’t have a plan to answer that question. “

Brice also presented data on homeless homelessness in the center of town, which he said was collected by around two dozen staff and volunteers during nighttime counts this spring. According to the organization’s monitoring, the downtown district – roughly bounded by I-35, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, San Antonio Street north of Lady Bird Lake, in addition to a part of the southern waterfront along Riverside Drive east of First Street – was home to just over 800 homeless residents in both May and June 17.

These totals take into account the number of extra people for any tents or vehicles counted, which Brice said left a “margin of error” in the alliance’s tally.

While the group reported little change in the overall homeless population between the past two months, with 813 enumerated in May compared to an estimate of 808 in June, a 35% increase in people on the streets was accompanied. a 27% drop in people living in tents or other dwellings. The locations of the homeless residents were also reported to be primarily located in the downtown east and south, while most of the tents were found on or near I-35 and East Cesar Chavez Street.

Following Brice’s report to the Public Security Council on July 6, Lt. APD Lawrence Davis also provided an update on police operations during the first two cycles of the application of Proposal B. While Davis has said the department has made an effort to avoid punishing the homeless and connect campers with social services when possible, with success in many cases so far, he also said the main persistent problem for officers and the city as a whole is the lack of housing. solution to the new laws of proposition B.

“We had 290 people who, if we had a place to go, were willing to comply voluntarily,” Davis said of the first rounds of ODA enforcement. “The elephant in the room is, hey, where can we tell people to go? And so if we’re going to ask them to go, we should have a place to take them.

Places to visit

This issue is one on which city staff also remain focused, although no firm strategy is yet in place. In a July 1 memo to city officials, Dianna Gray, head of homelessness strategy and Kimberly McNeeley, director of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, detailed their planning process for the sanctioned camping and other immediate accommodation options months after the entry into force of Proposal B.

While the concept of designated homeless settlements was first launched this spring, staff have yet to confirm whether the city will be able to open such facilities in time for the fourth and final phase. of the implementation of proposal B which will begin in August. In their report in early July, Gray and McNeeley said the campground selection process – detailed in public in May with a list of dozens of possible city-owned site options – had been expanded to handle nearly 80 sites. potential thanks to the criteria defined by the municipal council.

This new review resulted in a total of two feasible camp options, which staff say could cost the city around $ 3 million combined, not including utilities. Gray and NcNeeley did not indicate where these sites were located, but said that following further examination by the city’s legal team, both locations will be revealed and subject to a feedback process from the community.

In addition to the formalized camps, staff are also looking to increase the capacity of the city’s homeless shelters to potentially temporarily remove hundreds of people from the streets by August, depending on COVID-19 restrictions. Shelter expansions include: recently opening dozens of additional beds at the Southbridge shelter, restoring pre-pandemic capacity in existing assembly shelters, and converting a COVID-19 Protection Lodge facility to a bridge shelter . The latter option, made possible by the decline in ProLodges usage this year, will take place at a former hotel off I-35 in City Council District 9 at a cost of $ 4.2 million, have said Gray and NcNeeley.

“We have always said that we will not lose sight of the need to create real solutions to help people find permanent housing with the services they need to stay there, but we also recognize the immediate need for a place to stay. safe where to sleep until it happens, ”Gray said in a statement. “The creation of a second bridge shelter and efforts to increase the community’s emergency shelter capacity demonstrate our commitment to providing alternatives to homeless people in Austin.

Other housing options that are also currently under consideration include the selection of city-owned parking lots that will be used for overnight parking by homeless people in their cars, estimated to cost $ 80,000. by site; the rapid construction of individual “tiny houses” in the two designated camps, estimated to cost between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 per building; and the purchase of temporary Sprung shelters, or temporary, air-conditioned shelters, in designated camps, estimated to cost between $ 6,700 and $ 320,000 per facility, including purchase and construction.

Along with those options identified by staff on the table, Gray and McNeeley also said the city remains open to working with other governments, businesses and nonprofits on housing. In addition to any public engagement solicited as part of a site selection process, the city may also open a formal submission and tender process for additional project proposals this year.

A staff update covering the last two sanctioned campsites, parking sites and shelter expansion is now expected on July 22, less than two weeks after the start of the third phase of application of Proposal B The city council remains on its summer meeting break until the end of July, although officials will soon enter group budget discussions with members who will meet for their next standard working session on July 27 and their regular meeting on July 29.

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