AUSTIN (KXAN) – Hundreds of men, women, and children will sleep along city streets, underpasses, and creekbeds this Christmas Eve. This year has been defined by a chronic homeless problem with little temporary shelter or longterm housing.
That situation could get a bit better soon.
In February, the Salvation Army expects to open its Rathgeber Center. By midway through next year, organization leaders expect to have more than 200 beds ready to use.
After a ribbon-cutting, this summer, 40 rooms with 120 emergency shelter beds will be operational by February as part of its “Phase 1.”
The Salvation Army broke ground in June 2017 on the new women and children’s shelter in east Austin. The Rathgeber Center for Women and Children is along Tannehill Lane, right next to the Austin Shelter for Women and Children Day Care Center, and a bus stop.
The Center is named after the philanthropist who donated the land, Salvation Army Advisory Board Member Dick Rathgeber.
“Because it’s a larger facility. We are able to get more people and take more families off of the street that are living on couches or living in cars,” said Major Lewis Reckline, area commander for the Salvation Army.
Reckline tells KXAN they’ve confirmed the more than $2 million to open the short-term shelter beds and the money is pledged to be fully operational this fiscal year.
“Phase 1” is expected to be open in February. “Phase 2”, which will be an extended stay option for people with more serious issues, is expected to have 92 beds and be open later in the summer.
“For all of our programs, we have about 300 people on the waitlist. The reason it’s taken so long is we still don’t have the occupancy permit. So we’re still working to get that taken care of, which is probably just days away,” said Reckline.
In the days ahead, they’ll do background checks and hire staff. The number of people they can hire will determine how many full-service beds will be operational through next year.
With a chronic shortage of beds, city leaders say they’re thankful for each new one being used. By the end of the year, they hope to have 63 rooms with 212 beds in use.
In the past few months, the Salvation Army needed donations to staff and operate the shelter. Things changed after money was donated from the City of Austin, the Downtown Austin Alliance, Dick and Sara Rathgeber, Integral Care, and the Lola Wright foundation.
Austin leaders are also trying to buy-up hotels and turn them into shelters. The city started the strategy earlier last month. Council members approved spending $8 million to buy the Rodeway Inn near I-35 and Oltorf. A local non-profit plans to pay for the operational costs of the shelter.
Council members have also discussed buying the Microtel Inn and Suites for about $7 million but they put the vote on hold because of building restrictions near the airport. Last week a group of property owners sued the city over the potential purchase. They say the city shouldn’t be able to change zoning rules in the area.
Volunteers needed for Point in Time survey
The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition still needs volunteers for its annual point in time survey.
ECHO counts the number of people who are homeless in Travis County every year. The coalition also needs volunteers to collect donations for the homeless.
The group says it’s nice to give them something for taking the time to answer their questions. They’re collecting hygiene supplies, new socks and snacks.