The City of Austin has pinned down two out of the original 78 city-owned properties for potential homeless encampments as well as a new "bridge" shelter to transition people to permanent housing.
The two sites
The sites were evaluated for accessibility to transportation, safety from fires and floods, and proximity to schools. According to a city memo, the shelters would cost about $3 million to operate annually: $1.3 million for the first and $1.6 million for the second, not including the cost of utilities. The site locations have yet to be disclosed, awaiting an analysis of possible zoning issues.
According to the memo, the city is looking at a variety of structures to place on the encampment: "tiny home"-like structures without kitchens or bathrooms, which would cost about $5,000-10,000 per unit; temporary individual shelters at $4,000-$8,000 per unit or a Sprung shelter, a large tent that would cost $320,000 to purchase or $19,000 monthly to lease, plus $56,000 for assembly.
An earlier memo estimated costs for 50-100-person shelters but a Sprung shelter would hold around 300 beds. Each encampment will have bathrooms and handwashing stations onsite.
Another bridge shelter
A Thursday memo from the city said it is taking the next steps to use an existing ProLodge shelter, which was used to house infected COVID-19 patients, to convert into a second bridge shelter. Bridge shelters act as transitional places for homeless residents to temporarily stay; the goal is that residents will eventually be moved into permanent housing.
The bridge shelter, a former Days Inn on 3105 N. Interstate Hwy 35, will provide 55 rooms and is expected to open in mid-August. The shelter was leased on June 25 and the $4.2 million price tag is being paid with money from the American Rescue Plan. Austin City Council voted to direct $106.7 million of federal pandemic relief funds through the American Rescue Plan to the homelessness crisis last month.
"We've said all along we will not lose sight of the need to create real solutions to help people get back into permanent housing, with the services they need to stay there–but we also recognize the immediate need for a safe place to sleep until that happens," City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said in a statement.
The first bridge shelter, Southbridge, a former Rodeway Inn off Interstate 35 near Oltorf Street, opened in mid-June with 75 rooms. The Homeless Strategy Division is looking to make 125 more beds available across existing shelters and if previous COVID-related capacity restrictions can be relaxed, the number might jump to 300.
The city is also looking at well-lit parking sites with at least 50 spaces for homeless people who sleep in their cars, which would cost around $80,000 per year, including restrooms and security.
City Council is expected to give another update on July 22.
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Nicklaus Pereksta says he loves photographing enthusiastic people, and it’s why his latest gig offering pictures to people out on Lady Bird Lake’s hike and bike trail is going smoothly. He sets up his gear on the Pfluger pedestrian bridge and puts out a sign: Photos, $10.
“Overwhelmingly, this has been a really positive experience,” Pereksta said. “I get excited when I wake up in the morning and I can't wait to go to work.”
Bikers and joggers are excited about it too. On the pedestrian bridge leading to downtown Thursday morning, a man on an e-bike rode up and posed, wanting more photos.
“I posted the last pictures on Instagram and people loved it. They asked, ‘where is this guy?’” the biker told Pereksta. Bashfully, Pereksta, who also photographs landscapes and at weddings and other events, said he was happy to hear that.
Pereksta started these photos about a month ago, after the strenuous runs required in his valet job started causing pain in his legs. And though he has a passion for photography, he wasn’t so sure when he started working independently if it would work out.
He felt uncertain about the demand for it and was also worried about having lots of expensive equipment out in the open.
“Then like the first day was nothing but high praise and people are like, this is so awesome. This is great. I've never seen anything like this before. I was like, Wow, this was really good, like positive turnout. So I got encouraged.”
Now, he wants to expand and is thinking of contacting the Mueller Farmers Market about how to become a vendor. Still, he'll carry a connection to photographing on the bridge since the word bridge is related to his last name.
“It's a name my great, great, great grandfather came up with when he was marrying somebody. It's actually quite a romantic name. It means a joining of two bridges," Pereksta said. "So, I thought it was ironic that I'm set up on a bridge. I'm kind of representing my last name right now.”
Austonia talked to Pereksta about life in Austin, where he’s lived for eight years after living in Boston doing band photography.
What was your first experience with Austin?
I came here to visit some friends and they took me to Barbarella. So we went to Barbarella and I was like, ‘wow, this place is great.’ And then the restaurants and the food and going to Barton Springs. I was like, ‘this is amazing.’ Because there's nothing like that in Boston. If you want to go to a natural spring, you got to go to New Hampshire. There's no pools in the city at all. So there's lots of swimming out here.
What do you like best about Austin?
You go to any little quiet bar and there's a band playing that should be like onstage for a sold out show. Yeah, they're playing to 10 people, right? Like, one of the best bands ever and they're playing for 10 people, right? And just little magic moments like that are pretty fun. You just run into little random weird things.
What do you think makes Austin different from other places?
There’s no fall.
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