Austin Chamber of Commerce Launches Coalition To Help The Homeless

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The Austin Chamber of Commerce has announced a new coalition, ATX Helps, that aims to raise $14 million in private funds for an innovative approach to providing shelter and support services to Austinites living on the streets.

The coalition wants to construct and operate the city’s first Sprung shelter, a concept that’s proven successful in other cities to provide immediate—and temporary—safe, and clean shelter and other necessities. Leaders from Austin’s business community, including representatives from the Downtown Austin Alliance, and faith-based organizations are serving on ATX Helps’ steering committee.

“Homelessness in Austin has reached a critical level that’s inhumane for those experiencing it,” Brian Cassidy, chairman of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said. “This is the answer for someone who wants to get off the street now, and this addresses the most immediate and visible gap in Austin’s current efforts.”

ATX Helps will set up the first Sprung shelter, which will serve as a housing navigation center. At its core, it will provide shelter, outreach and storage solutions for people who need it most. This type of shelter combined with navigation services will serve as a bridge to move people who are actively living on the streets into either permanent supportive housing or into private housing that will allow them to get jobs and find stable homes.

The $14-million campaign goal includes funds for both capital and operational expenses to ensure that the shelter can be properly operated for at least two years. Each Sprung shelter costs approximately $2 million in capital expense, which includes the structure and all furnishings. This is intended to be a temporary solution until more permanent facilties can be implemented. 

ATX Helps aims to have the initial $2 million in capital funds raised by the end of this year so that the first navigation center can be constructed during the first quarter of 2020. ATX Helps is currently scouting sites for this location, with the target area being within a half-mile to a mile of downtown Austin.

Sprung structures, which can be fully operational in just three months, typically hold about 150 bunk beds and can comfortably sleep 300. Another critical benefit ATX Helps will provide is storage for personal items. Plans include providing large, lockable bins for each person housed, as well as approximately 200 additional bins for people who need it but are not staying in the Sprung shelter. In addition to dining and sanitation services, the shelter will also offer comprehensive wraparound services to help mental health and drug/alcohol concerns.

The City of Austin has been trying to address the rising homelessness numbers by largely focusing on permanent housing solutions—which have waiting lists of up to two years. For many experiencing homelessness, access to immediate shelter and accompanying services can be the catalyst needed to take their next step, regain employment and pave the way to permanent housing.

Photo: Getty Images

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