AUSTIN, Texas - Multiple advocacy groups are calling on Austin City Council to take more action on the proposed budget to address homelessness and overdose issues.
Advocates say that despite Mayor Kirk Watson’s recent announcement of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) funds for temporary shelter, there needs to be more funding for permanent supportive housing, eviction prevention, and harm reduction services.
"Short term emergency strategies and Band-Aids can save lives. They are important, but they are not enough. And we should never settle for that," Joao Paulo Connolly, organizing director for Austin Justice Coalition said.
Activists also say progress on permanent support housing isn't being prioritized. They say the budget adds $32 million to the police department, which they say isn't effective at addressing homeless and drug use.
Advocates called on city council to prioritize proposals outlined in the Community Investment Budget:
- $1 million for harm reduction services and infrastructure
- $3 million for project-based permanent supportive housing voucher
- $3 million for service funding for permanent supportive housing
- $3 million for street outreach services, case managers, and peer support specialists
- $16 million for emergency rental assistance, eviction defense, tenant legal and support services
"If the city is investing so much money into temporary shelter, we need to see the same kind of momentum going into permanent supportive housing to address what comes next after shelter," Paulette Soltani, organizing director of Texas Harm Reduction Alliance said.
One advocate, who goes by 8-Track, lives on the streets and says that kind of housing would help with making a living.
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"Permanent supportive housing would help me so much because then I can go pick a job that I would actually enjoy, something that wouldn't stress me out," he said. "You're going to want to sleep in a library, too, if you spent the previous night wandering around just trying to find a safe place to lay your head to where you wouldn't be harassed by APD."
"No amount of extra policing will reduce the number of homeless. Only permanent housing can do that," Barry Jones with Texas Harm Reduction Alliance said.
Interim City Manager Jesus Garza is proposing $55.8 million in the budget to address homelessness, including expanding emergency shelter options, building permanent supportive housing units, funding rapid rehousing contracts, and further investment in the Homeless Outreach Street Team.
In response to the advocates' requests, a city spokesperson says, "This is a proposed budget and all input, including feedback, suggestions and concerns raised in the ongoing Public Hearings, will be considered as the budget process proceeds."