State to lease sanctioned homeless encampment in SE Austin to chamber-led coalition; plans for 150-bed shelter underway

Cori Roberts, a member of the three-person Camp RATT council and resident of the state-sanctioned homeless encampment in Southeast Austin, has been homeless since she was a teenager. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Cori Roberts, a member of the three-person Camp RATT council and resident of the state-sanctioned homeless encampment in Southeast Austin, has been homeless since she was a teenager. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Cori Roberts, a member of the three-person Camp RATT council and resident of the state-sanctioned homeless encampment in Southeast Austin, has been homeless since she was a teenager. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

If negotiations go smoothly, for $1 per month ATX Helps, a homelessness-focused coalition led by the local chamber of commerce and a downtown Austin stakeholder group, will lease the site of the state-sanctioned homeless encampment set up by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott off US 183 in Southeast Austin. ATX Helps plans to start up a 150-bed homeless shelter “as soon as possible” according to a representative.

Abbott first publicized plans of the $1 per month lease in a Feb. 20 tweet, although there were previous reports that ATX Helps was working on a deal for the land. The Texas Transportation Commission unanimously approved entering into the lease agreement during its Feb. 27 meeting. Representatives of ATX Helps said they still need to review and discuss the lease before any agreement is made official.

After consistent and harsh criticism of Austin’s response to its growing homelessness challenge, Abbott opened the nearly 7-acre tract at 780 S. US 183 as a state-sanctioned encampment on Nov. 7. The site’s popularity grew over time, and today there are, reportedly, approximately 150 people who call the encampment home.

On the same day as Abbott’s announcement, ATX Helps launched its coalition, focused on raising $14 million to build and operate a 300-bed homeless shelter with services by the first quarter of 2020. ATX Helps representatives initially wanted the shelter to be on state land and within a half-mile of downtown. With the transportation commission’s Feb. 27 approval, ATX Helps received half its wish. The site is approximately 5 miles southeast of downtown.

The lease outlines a 10-year term with three five-year renewal options, according to state officials; however, a clause allows either side to cancel the lease with due notice. Representatives from ATX Helps said they expect the shelter to be and running within 6 months. Bill Brice, vice president of investor relations with Downtown Austin Alliance, a downtown Austin stakeholder group leading the coalition alongside the chamber of commerce, said the 150-bed shelter would cost $5 million to build and operate for up to two years. Brice said ATX Helps has raised about $1.5 million to date, but expects to line up more donors now that the shelter has a designated site. Brice reemphasized the ultimate goal is to raise $14 million and put 300 total beds on the tract.

About 150 people currently live on the site, according to reports. Robert Rhodes, one of the first residents of Camp RATT—Responsible Adults Transition Town, as residents there call it—objected to the plans for the site during the Feb. 27 transportation commission meeting.

“We had plans and visions for self-management that are inexpensive and effective and would allow campers to come off the streets [and work with service providers] now, not eight months from now,” Rhodes told the commission. “We understand how to work with the homeless.”

Rhodes said residents of Camp RATT sent a counteroffer to Abbott that would price the monthly lease cost at $1 per each person living there today, about “$150 per month” Rhodes said. However, he said Abbott never responded to the offer, and asked the commission to consider the offer. The commission declined.

Brice promised ATX Helps would work with all the existing residents of the encampment and said he hoped all of the residents would live inside the encampment rather than living outside and “facing the elements.” Brice could not offer specifics on the logistics surrounding how people will be welcomed into the shelter once up and running. He said ATX Helps was working with the local Ending Community Homelessness Coalition and service providers to seamlessly join the local service system.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Bill Brice's name.


Photo of three men drinking at a tiki bar
Ramen Tatsu-Ya readies new South Austin concept, plus more area business news

Tiki bar and restaurant Tiki Tatsu-Ya is set to open later this summer.

Minnesota-based Rockler Woodworking and Hardware will open a location in La Frontera in late September. (Brooke Sjoberg/Community Impact Newspaper)
Rockler Woodworking and Hardware coming to Round Rock

Minnesota-based Rockler Woodworking and Hardware is coming to La Frontera in Round Rock in late September.

The proposed Wild Ridge master-planned neighborhood northeast of downtown Dripping Springs would include 960 homes on 40- to 60-foot-wide lots. (Courtesy City of Dripping Springs)
Master-planned neighborhood in Dripping Springs to bring 960 homes, new roads

The proposed development by Meritage Homes would feature amenities such as a disc golf course.

Jasper Brown, interim chief of Austin Travis County EMS, proposed that the city add $1.2 million to its budget for EMS to prepare for mass shootings. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin council considers adding millions to budget for mass shooting response, mental health crises

A combined $8.5 million could fund clinicians' work along with training and ballistic vests in case of mass shootings

Q&A: Greg Smith, executive director of Fast Growth School Coalition

Greg Smith is the former superintendent of Clear Creek ISD and became executive director of Fast Growth School Coalition in December 2020. 

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County proposes tax rate for 2021-22 fiscal year, prepares for budget approval process

Due to increasing property values, the property tax rate is expected to be around $0.017 lower in the coming fiscal year.

Photo of school supples
Parents weigh in: What are your considerations heading into the 2021-22 school year?

Community Impact Newspaper seeks parent feedback as we prepare for our annual education edition.

Photo of the Austin Police Department
City of Austin certifies Save Austin Now's petition to increase police staffing, adding it to fall ballot

The measure would require two police officers for every 1,000 area residents, among other provisions.

Photo of a doctor with a pregnant woman
Austin health experts warn delta variant could pose higher risk for pregnant women

Maternal medicine doctors across Central Texas have seen increasing numbers of pregnant women coming to the hospital with breathing issues and pregnancy complications as a result of COVID-19.

Wayback Burgers makes cooked-to-order burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Courtesy Wayback Burgers)
6 eateries open or coming to Cedar Park, Leander; Trudy's North Star reopens in Northwest Austin and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area, including Tiff's Treats opening in Hutto.

Trudy's Tex-Mex courtesy photo
Trudy’s North Star reopens with renovated restaurant, new menu

The restaurant underwent recent renovations to its dining rooms, exterior dining spaces and bar areas.

Road closure updates graphic
TxDOT to close I-35 main lanes in North Austin late Aug. 2 and 3

Southbound and northbound I-35 lanes will close late at night Aug. 2 and 3 as the state works on new flyovers.