AUSTIN, Texas - Unsheltered homelessness is the most visible kind.
It's the people you see living on the streets, perhaps under the overpasses, and in Austin, it is also inequitable.
“Thirty-eight percent of homeless people are black compared to being only eight percent of the general population,” said Barbara Poppe of Poppe and Associates.
That is according to a report released by her consulting firm, which was brought in by the city. It says not only is homelessness inequitable but it's getting worse.
“Unsheltered homelessness, the most visible form of homelessness is rising dramatically in Austin,” said Poppe.
The firm presented these findings in a council work session.
“The importance of bringing in a national consultant was to ensure the city is leveraging dollars spent on activities to address homelessness,” said assistant city manager Chris Shorter.
The city has already adopted some policies decriminalizing the homeless, consultants acknowledged that, but the bigger recommendations included housing solutions.
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“They have identified that some of our policies and procedures in this community are headed in the right direction to not criminalize homelessness,” said interim homeless strategy officer Vella Karman. “I think they have acknowledged we have a lot of great programs and services and efforts here but there is an opportunity for increased coordination, cooperation and really using data to drive our decision and investments."
One investment was the Rodeway Inn, which Karman said the city bought two months ago despite promising to use it as early as last fall. Renovations are just now wrapping up, but the ongoing pandemic has halted some of the housing use plans.
Instead, it will in the short-term be used to house the homeless who have COVID-19 symptoms. “Because we have this need with the pandemic in our community that's our intent for that property,” she said.
Ultimately, the consultant said a strong city and ECHO partnership, along with data-driven investments, is what will be the solution to ending homelessness.