On September 26, Downtown Austin Alliance relaunched their Issues and Eggs educational series. These sessions bring experts to the breakfast table to provide perspective on the challenges and unique opportunities downtown faces.
A Balanced Approach: Homelessness in Austin
The first Issues & Eggs session focused on one of the most challenging and pressing issues faced by downtowns across the country: homelessness. A panel of experts gathered with a focus on two critical parts of the system, shelter and housing.
Following opening remarks from President and CEO Dewitt Peart, Mayor Kirk Watson kicked off the panel by level-setting with the audience that homelessness is a multifaceted issue that requires various approaches and resources to make a difference. Mayor Watson also discussed the importance of city funding and the need for shelters being at an all-time high, with just one shelter bed available for every five people living unhoused in Austin.
The panel discussion was moderated by board member and downtown resident Sheryl Sculley, a former city manager in multiple cities with over 45 years of experience. The panel featured:
- Chris Baker, executive director at The Other Ones Foundation, the organization that has set up non-congruent shelters or “cabins” on state-owned property, and offers a supportive community, case management and humanitarian aid to people experiencing homelessness.
- Jo Kathryn Quinn, president & CEO at Caritas of Austin, the organization that works to provide stable housing, healthy food, job connections and more to Austinites to end homelessness.
- Kirkpatrick Tyler, chief of government & community affairs at Urban Alchemy, the organization that has transformed the ARCH into a peaceful, safe and clean space for its residents through a respect-driven approach that includes a focus on conflict de-escalation and compassion.
These individuals and their respective agencies represent only a fraction of the many organizations that are part of Austin’s homeless service system.
While the panelists differ in how they serve the Austinites experiencing homelessness, they all agree a balanced system includes prevention, shelter, services and housing and a broad range of supports and interventions in between. There was also general agreement that Austin’s homeless service system is under-developed and under-coordinated for our city’s size and number of individuals who need help.
Key takeaways include:
- Each shelter and organization needs to create a safe environment that allows unhoused people to be safe and secure and quickly receive the services and care they need.
- Organizations focused on homelessness need to work together to create a well-coordinated “ecosystem” and to provide clear communication on their efforts and solutions.
- While there is significant funding available for rapidly rehousing individuals experiencing homelessness, one of the biggest challenges identified is the lack of available rental units and finding landlords who will lease to this population.
- Providing immediate services without a wait period is crucial. Many individuals experiencing homelessness get discouraged or lose contact with their resources over a wait period because of repeated system breakdowns or failure to produce results that are helpful to them.
To view the program booklet click here.
If you’d like to learn more about the Downtown Austin Alliance and how we’re working to create a better future, visit our website. To learn more about the next Issues & Eggs happening in November, subscribe to our newsletter.