State awards $500K to city of Austin for homelessness initiatives

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill on municipal annexation reform into law Tuesday.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill on municipal annexation reform into law Tuesday.

The city of Austin will receive $513,732 in funding to combat homelessness thanks to a grant from the state.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs announced Tuesday its fiscal year 2018 allocations for the Homeless Housing and Services Program, established in 2009 by the 81st Texas Legislature.

The program provides for the construction, development or procurement of housing for homeless persons and provides local programs to prevent and eliminate homelessness.

The state awarded a combined $4.9 million to Austin and eight other Texas cities. Funds must go to municipalities that have a population of 285,500 or more.

“These funds serve as a vital resource of help for some of our most vulnerable Texans, helping them work toward self-sufficiency through supportive housing and a variety of services and enabling them to overcome the challenges of homelessness,” Tim Irvine, Executive Director of TDHCA, said in a news release.

Last year, the city received $508,796 and designed the money to two subgrantees: Salvation Army of Austin, which provides 242 shelter beds and three meals a day to men, women and children as well as case management and support services; and Front Steps, which operates the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or ARCH, in addition to offering affordable housing, recuperative medical care and supportive services.

More than 6,400 people reportedly received HHSP assistance last year, according to the release.  In Austin and across Texas, the largest demographic of clients served were between the ages 0f 19-50.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, found that as of January, 4,541 individuals were in need of housing in the Austin/Travis County area.

The state funding comes as the city of Austin hopes to ramp up its efforts to mitigate homelessness, particularly in the downtown area around the ARCH.

A coalition of organizations—including Front Steps, ECHO and The Salvation Army—as well as the city of Austin and the Austin Police Department, have been meeting for several months to find solutions to the overcrowding downtown and the broader homelessness issue in Austin.

Starting Aug. 15, several new initiatives aimed at increasing public safety efforts downtown will be launched.

Efforts include increasing police presence around; providing more temporary lighting and public bathrooms; increasing street cleaning; changing the ways and places food is distributed; and identifying ways to expand access to services and permanent housing for the homeless.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she also wants the city manager to identify five city-owned properties which could be used as temporary emergency shelters.

She said these efforts are a direct response to what she has been hearing from the downtown community.

“The idea really is to approach this as the public health and safety crisis that it is," she said at a City Council work session Tuesday.

This story has been updated to clarify the Salvation Army provides shelter to men, women and children as well as provides case management and support services.