Mayor Adler calls hotel purchase 'right path' to address homelessness

Austin Mayor Steve Adler says the city's idea to buy a south Austin Rodeway Inn on I-35 to help house the homeless represents the turning of a corner on this issue and getting the city on the right path.

"Hopefully eventually more than just this one, multiple hotels. Because it gives us an actual home for people," Adler said. "The first 80 plus rooms here is a start. My hope is we can get to several hundred rooms." 

By the way, the City Manager's office says the controversial South Austin Housing Center on Ben White is not happening anymore. The City says buying hotels is the new direction for providing support services, job training, substance abuse assistance and more.

"But to do it in a way that is what looks to be maybe half the cost of what the original proposal might have been," Adler said.

On Thursday, City Council will discuss spending $8 million on the 87-room Rodeway Inn, includes closing costs and renovation. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition will fundraise what they need to run the shelter and wants to move fast in getting people in rooms.

The old office building on Ben White would have taken a considerable amount of time to renovate, but the Rodeway Inn won't.

"The goal I think is to actually close on the property in two months but we don't have to wait the two months to actually start putting people there," Adler said.  

Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak has been a vocal opponent of the city's methods of dealing with the homeless crisis and he's the co-founder of the non-partisan "Save Austin Now."

"Yeah, the location of the proposed shelter [on Ben White] was really disastrous," Mackowiak said. "[The city pulling the plug on the Ben White shelter] is an example of grassroots activism making a difference."

He says the Rodeway Inn plan is a good one.

"I think buying an existing building that can house a large number of people, converting it into a homeless shelter is a very good model," Mackowiak said. 

Mackowiak says he does have some concerns.

"Will it become a place where drug dealers and human traffickers and sex traffickers can take advantage of the homeless population?" Mackowiak said.

Those who live near the Rodeway Inn have concerns as well.

"It's a little too soon and it doesn't really seem like it's being thought out so I am really nervous about that, to be honest," said Madeline Logan, who lives near the hotel.

Adler says with the recent improvements around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, the city is proving they can run a shelter.

"Putting them in line for housing and for support services.  We can demonstrate that we can do that work and that's the promise that we can be making to future neighborhoods as we locate housing opportunities around our city,"  Adler said.

By the way, as of last month, it is against the law now to camp, sit or lie near a homeless shelter.  A City spokesperson says it's too soon to know whether that will apply at the hotel.