Austin’s homelessness crisis prompts city manager to propose spending boost in 2020 budget

Austin's homeless population has grown by 5% in each of the last two years, according to numbers from the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

Austin's homeless population has grown by 5% in each of the last two years, according to numbers from the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

As the visibility of homelessness across Austin continues to rise, City Manager Spencer Cronk has proposed a $62.7 million budget for homelessness programs in fiscal year 2019-20.

If approved, Cronk’s proposal would set a new high-water mark for homelessness spending in the city’s history, surpassing last year’s record of a $45.7 million budget allocation. Cronk laid out his FY 2019-20 budget proposal Aug. 5, appropriately held at LifeWorks, a local organization that has dedicated itself to ending youth homelessness.

With the Texas Legislature’s 3.5% tax revenue caps due to come online in fiscal year 2020-21, Cronk’s budget will increase tax revenue by the current max of 8%. Cronk said this increase frees up an additional one-time revenue stream of $15 million to spend on homelessness programs.

The $62.7 million is a combination of capital and program expenditures. The proposal is highlighted by an additional $5 million to the development of permanent supportive housing and $2.7 million for legal aid to those who are facing an eviction. Cronk wants to give the Salvation Army’s new Rathgeber Center—a shelter focused on helping families with children—$1.5 million to help bridge the shelter’s roughly $5 million funding gap in operational costs. The budget would also send an additional $1.3 million for upgrades to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

Cronk’s team, led by the city’s recently hired Homelessness Strategy Officer Lori Pampilo Harris, is expected to come back with recommendations later this month on potential areas where the city would encourage homeless encampments. Cronk said he wants to earmark $1.5 million for that project. Austin’s Pay for Success program, which aims to connect people facing homelessness to affordable housing and services, would receive an additional $4.8 million commitment.

The city is also proposing the creation of a Homeless Advisory Council to streamline the response to the rising homelessness challenge. Cronk said the group would create a performance improvement process to oversee the various programs addressing the issue. The city will also contract out a third-party review of Austin’s homelessness program contracts.

Although the city has seen year-over-year reductions in veteran and youth homelessness, statistics from the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition show an upward trend in overall homelessness over the past two years, while the unsheltered homeless population has increased by 142% since 2014.
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