With Rathgeber Center opening on horizon, downtown Salvation Army homeless shelter begins transition away from families

City officials and Salvation Army members gathered in front of the Rathgeber Center in September to publicly push for donations to support operating costs. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
City officials and Salvation Army members gathered in front of the Rathgeber Center in September to publicly push for donations to support operating costs. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

City officials and Salvation Army members gathered in front of the Rathgeber Center in September to publicly push for donations to support operating costs. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The 242-bed Salvation Army homeless shelter has long housed families with children and single adults, but that is set to change, as a long-awaited family shelter is set to open next week and transition homeless families out of downtown.

The founders of the Salvation Army Rathgeber Center for Families, a 212-bed homeless shelter in East Austin, cut the ribbon on the facility in July 2019, but struggles in finding funding have delayed its opening to late February 2020.

A central goal of opening the Rathgeber Center was to take families with children out of Salvation Army’s downtown, an area which officials and service providers have said is not suitable for children. When the center opens next week, it will welcome five families from the downtown shelter into the facility. The remaining nine families in the downtown shelter, according to Salvation Army spokesperson Corey Leith, are expected to be moved to permanent housing in the coming weeks.

Once all the families have moved out, the Salvation Army will officially transition the downtown shelter from serving single adults and families with children to only serving single adults. Leith said although there would be no change in the number of people the downtown shelter can serve, the Salvation Army will have to update area of the shelter formerly occupied by families to make it suitable for single adults.

During its Feb. 20 meeting, City Council approved a grant of $108,000 so the Salvation Army could complete the modifications. That money has to be spent by August, according to Jen Samp, spokesperson for the Austin Public Health Department.

Once all of the families are moved out of the downtown shelter, 55 spaces will open up. As of January, 81 single adults were on the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter waiting list, according to Leith.

When the Rathgeber Center opens next week, it will do so at a very limited capacity, only accepting five families on the first round.

Although Leith said the shelter has enough funding to operate at its full 212-bed capacity through 2020, the organization has run into obstacles in hiring case managers and other staff. Without a full staff, the shelter cannot serve at its full capacity.

Leith said the Salvation Army has set a goal to fill all 212 beds before summer 2020.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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