South Austin residents expressing concerns about proposed Ben White homeless shelter

1112 West Ben White Boulevard is an approximately 26,000-square-foot building identified by City of Austin staff as being an ideal location for a homeless shelter.

It's close to where people experiencing homelessness live as well as public transportation and reasonable distance to health care with St. David's right across the highway.  

"The vote is for them to go forward and negotiate and execute,” council member Ann Kitchen said. “They still have to go through a whole vetting process.”

Kitchen says the idea is a housing-focused shelter -- a place for people to stay while they're being connected to services.

"It's not a drop-in center and it's not a place that people can hang out who are not living there," Kitchen said.

For those who are wondering, the intent seems to be for it to not look like what Austin is seeing in front of the downtown ARCH on a daily basis.  

Kitchen says it will be a requirement for the shelter to be a "good neighbor" to the neighborhoods.

"That means nobody hanging around outside, that means no drop-in services,” Kitchen said. “That means security on the premises.”

Mark Hillbelink is the director of the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, a nonprofit just a few blocks away.  He says what the city is proposing is a good thing and a long time coming.

"To do a housing-focused shelter is smart because just serving people and kind of meeting them where they are over and over again without some sort of strategy is not real productive," he said.           

However there are challenges, he says, one of them being actually controlling what happens around the shelter.

"The reality is also that you've got a bunch of homeless people in one space, there's less than reputable people that might want to target that population,” Hillbelink said. “As an entity they could try to patrol the loitering on this property but it would be really difficult to patrol the loitering let's say one square mile of here.”

Kitchen says she has reached out to those who live in the area.

"I reached out as soon as I saw the location and that's what we're doing right now," Kitchen said.

Some nearby homeowners are not happy.

"It seems like they just sprung it on us out of the blue," said Tim Carlett. "I could see that…that could negatively impact my home values."

One man said he didn’t know that it’s a great idea.

"I think it's too close to a residential area, it's next to the elementary school right behind us here," he said. "Fortunately we haven't had any issues with you know crime but you know I’ve got to think that's only a matter of time." 

There's even a petition.

"Residents fear that the new plan will serve to permanently attract and concentrate the problem. It is noted that there is no proposal to install a permanent police substation in the area which would give comfort to residents. The City has provided unsatisfactory insight into the services planned at this shelter and safeguards for nearby residents and businesses," the petition says.

According to the Travis County Appraisal District the property is valued at about $3.6 million. The City will be asking for an amount "not to exceed" $8.6 million.  

The City says they're accounting for additional dollars like closing costs, and they say the tax assessed value is not always the best indicator of a property's fair market value.

The cost to operate the facility will be about $2.5 million and there will be some renovations as well. The cost of that is unclear.