Nonprofit group to take over state-run homeless camp

Lezlie Perkins is an aspiring midwife. After a death in her family, her life became much harder. She and her dog, Ahava, have lived at the state homeless campsite on 183 near Montopolis Drive for about three weeks now.

“I love the idea of having my own tent because I can put my belongings down and feel safe that they are there. We have state troopers here, I have Ahava to protect me and start becoming that mid-wife I want to become,” she said.

On Thursday, TxDOT approved lease negotiations with ATX Helps, a coalition between the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Chamber of Commerce.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott offers shelter deal after two fires at homeless camps

The state will lease out Camp R.A.T.T. for $1 a month to the group, and they will build a 300-bed shelter on the site. Perkins is on the fence because she doesn't want to relive the sexual abuse she said she dealt with while living in a shelter. “It's the safety for me. Other people have different values. For me I know I can go to a state trooper if someone acts out. I have my own tent I can zip it down." 

“It's going to be another A.R.C.H. and I don't want that out there,” said Robert Rhodes.

“We know not everyone might accept shelter but based on 2019 data from the point in time count, we know on any given night in Austin there are 1,100 people or more who don't have a place to be under a roof even if they desire to be under a roof,” said Bill Brice, VP of Investor Relations at the Downtown Austin Alliance.


Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 7 Austin News app. It is FREE!

Download for iOS or Android


Brice said the shelter will act as a temporary solution to get the homeless into permanent housing eventually. Getting it up and running will cost about $5 million. “About $2 million of that is for capital costs to actually purchase and stand up the shelter and to operate it for a minimum of two years with the necessary social services,” said Brice.

Perkins welcomes ATX Helps to talk with residents of the camp. “There are creative people out here. They just need to transfer their skills from their homeless survival life onto something else."

RELATED: Homeless community finds state campground is safer, more changes likely soon

She just hopes the homeless are not only helped, but also heard. “I have some sense of stabilizing the person I used to be and that person feels so far away. I used to make $75 to $100 an hour,” said Perkins.

Mayor Steve Adler was out of town and unavailable to comment on this story. Fox 7 Austin also reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott for comment but did not hear back.

Brice stated, once construction does begin, residents at Camp R.A.T.T. will not be displaced, as the shelter will occupy a small piece of the seven-acre location.