State may lease 5-acre homeless camp to chamber and Downtown Austin Alliance, kick-starting shelter effort

ATX Helps launched in November. The effort by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Austin Alliance aims to open up more homeless shelter space in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
ATX Helps launched in November. The effort by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Austin Alliance aims to open up more homeless shelter space in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

ATX Helps launched in November. The effort by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Austin Alliance aims to open up more homeless shelter space in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The state-sanctioned homeless encampment in South Austin could soon be under the control of ATX Helps, the homeless shelter effort of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Austin Alliance, if a state commission approves a lease agreement next week.

The Texas Transportation Commission is mulling whether to lease the 5-acre encampment at 780 S. US 183 to the ATX Helps organization for $1 per month. ATX Helps is the chamber of commerce and downtown alliance’s effort to provide emergency shelter space for the community’s homeless population.

A decision will be made at the Texas Transportation Commission’s meeting Feb. 27. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s press secretary, John Wittman, said the commission’s decision was a first step and it was “way too early” to begin discussing details on how a potential partnership between the state and ATX Helps could work.

Following displeasure with how Austin was handling its homelessness challenges, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opened the camp on Nov. 7. Although the idea of sanctioned encampments was against the recommendations of the National Alliance to End Homelessness—the group consulting the city of Austin on homeless solutions—the camp has slowly gained a population of more than 100 people, and residents of the camp have built their own governing structure.

On the same day Abbott announced the opening of the camp, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Austin Alliance and faith-based community announced the start of ATX Helps, a $14 million campaign to provide 300 shelter beds for the homeless population. The goal was to build a sprung shelter, which is a canvas-walled structure they said would provide immediate, temporary and safe space for those experiencing homelessness to stay. The shelter would also provide a navigation center that aims to connect people to case management, health care, housing and employment opportunities.

The initial aim was to build this shelter near downtown. However, if the state approves the lease, chamber CEO Mike Rollins said ATX Helps would build a shelter on the South Austin tract. The shelter would serve 150 people with wraparound services, according to Rollins.

“Since our launch in November, we've reviewed a number of sites around Austin, including many locations near downtown,” Rollins said in a statement. “While those locations were not viable for our first Sprung shelter, the TxDOT site near [US] 183 and Montopolis has already proven itself as a workable, accessible location for people currently living on the streets. We are eager to get this first shelter open so we can use the learnings we’ll get from it to open additional shelters as we raise more funds.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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