Downtown Austin Salvation Army residents, homeless advocates protest anticipated closure of shelter

Residents of the Salvation Army’s downtown shelter are afraid they will soon end up back on the streets.

"This is an outrage. How can you give us one month's notice to vacate without a plan for us? This is ludicrous, unreasonable and inhumane," said Carolyn Williams, who has been a resident for less than a month. "I'm so angry, hurt and broken. I was evicted when Katrina hit New Orleans, and I was evicted from my home because my son had schizophrenia. That's why I am at the Salvation Army. Now I'm being evicted from my home again."

Members of the homeless community as well as representatives from local advocate groups spoke at a press conference Thursday morning.

"Can the city buy the building? Can the city lease the building? Why is this happening so fast? Can this be delayed while we figure out a better solution?" said Paulette Soltani, director of organizing for the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. "There are solutions to this crisis, and we are again imploring the people in power to put political will and money and whatever is required aside to find a solution so that lives are not destroyed over the callousness and the cruelty of this shelter provider." 

The Austin Area Commander announced the 100-bed downtown shelter would close, in a letter released mid-February, on March 15.

In a statement shared with FOX 7 on Thursday, Major Reckline said:

"After several years of engagement, investigation and discussion with the City and with our leadership, we made the difficult decision to close this shelter on March 15th. We can no longer continue to offer the level and quality of care our brothers and sisters need at this facility. We agree with our partners in this space, that the crisis of homelessness in our City remains an enormous challenge. In the short term, we are diligently working with each of the clients currently at the downtown shelter to help them relocate and access the care and services they need. In the long term, closing this facility allows us to amplify our focus on families and women and children who are experiencing homelessness. Through our Rathgeber Center for Families and the Austin Shelter for Women and Children, we operate 300 beds, continue to serve vulnerable families, and look forward to continuing to work with the city as a collaborative partner now and in the future."

However, District 9 Councilmember Zohaib "Zo" Qadri said he was disappointed in the "short notice" given to the city.

"My office will also continue to work with the Mayor's office in finding a long-term solution to serve this critical need downtown, whether it includes working with the new buyers of the shelter or contacting another entity or identifying another location for the city regarding a new lease," said Council member Qadri.

Council member Qadri also said the city’s Homeless Strategy Office has been working daily on possible solutions since receiving the news. FOX 7 Austin is waiting to hear back from the Homeless Strategy Office. 

Meanwhile, residents FOX 7 spoke to feel left in the dark.

"Where do we go? What are we going to do? We have no place to go, maybe under the bridge or to a tent or the wilderness," said Nancy Kohlberg, a resident. "None of the programs answer the phone calls, the ones that we're given, you call and there’s a busy signal or their list is full."