Challenge of veteran homelessness in Austin still unsolved

Mayor Steve Adler joined by veteran Nicholette Lindsay, right, and community partners to find housing for homeless veterans.

Mayor Steve Adler joined by veteran Nicholette Lindsay, right, and community partners to find housing for homeless veterans.

The goal of ending veteran homelessness in Austin by Veteran’s Day was not met, but Mayor Steve Adler said he remains hopeful.

According to U.S. Census data released Jan. 1, there are 234 homeless veterans live in Austin. Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell issued a challenge to house all homeless vets in October 2014. By the time Adler reaffirmed that commitment this year, 34 vets had found homes and 82 more have been housed under Adler's leadership. Dozens more are currently going through the process to relocate, he said.

“We’re learning a lot, and I think we have a model now that works, a plan that works," Adler said. "Big cities set big goals. We set a big goal here and it rallied people."

That model and plan is called a "housing first strategy," which means housing someone who is homeless regardless of their sobriety, criminal background or other factors that may typically serve as barriers to housing.

Housing first complex at 3000 Oak Springs Drive A housing complex with 50 units and various services will break ground spring 2016.[/caption]

Adler announced Nov. 10 a new housing complex that will break ground in spring 2016 at 3000 Oak Springs Drive in East Austin and follow the housing first model. The complex will have 50 units for individuals, a health care clinic, job training office and is estimated to serve 1,000 people annually. Austin Travis County Integral Care will manage the property and services provided.

Downtown Austin Alliance announced the same day a $150,000 challenge grant to help fund the project, meaning that if $150,000 is raised by efforts throughout the city DAA will give that same amount to the new housing first complex.

“We believe it is a very viable solution to solve homelessness and a best practice. We’ve been investigating this for years,” DAA president and CEO Dewitt Peart said. “These projects are successful when they’re done through public-private partnerships so this is a demonstration of the business community supporting projects we believe are the solution.”

As cities across the country are experiencing similar challenges, finding or developing housing is exceptionally difficult in Austin, Adler said.

“We have an affordability challenge in this city for virtually everybody at all levels. We’re in a market that’s 98 percent occupied,” Adler said. “It’s especially hard in a city like Austin where there’s a housing shortage and an affordability issue.”

A fund to help pay partial rent for veterans called Housing Heroes has raised $355,000 as of Nov. 11 and hopes to reach $570,000 by the end of the year.

Jo Kathryn Quinn, executive director of Caritas of Austin, said property managers or owners should consider prioritizing the housing of veterans to speed up the housing process so those who are living on the streets do not have to wait for homes to be built.

Army veteran Nicholette Lindsay said after 11 years of service she decided to spend more time with her son and transitioned to a job in the technology industry. However, hard times fell and she was unable to pay rent, resulting in losing her home.

"At the time I had an extreme flood of emotions ... I felt like I was alone, I was abandoned," Lindsay said.

Lindsay and her son found shelter through Salvation Army and now live at apartment complex The Paddock because of the housing initiative, she said. Her property manager has said providing Lindsay with a home while she was in need has been a great experience.

The goal now is to secure 118 leases for homeless veterans by New Year’s Eve, according to Adler’s spokesperson.

Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, estimates 6,000 to 7,000 people in Austin and Travis County experience homelessness every year. Of those, there is a subset which cycles out of jails, hospitals and shelters and cost the community $15 million in health care costs each year.

By Jennifer Curington
Jennifer covers Austin City Council, its various committees and local business news. After covering Florida's 2013 legislative session she graduated from Georgia Southern University and joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2014.


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