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City narrows down two sites for homeless encampments, announces second 'bridge' shelter

A group of homeless individuals have been living outside City Hall since the camping ban was reinstated on May 1. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

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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