Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New ‘Southbridge’ Program will Provide Temporary Shelter for People Experiencing Homelessness

New 'Southbridge' Program will Provide Temporary Shelter for People Experiencing Homelessness

Former hotel will be used to shelter encampment residents under HEAL initiative

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey has identified the proposed location of a 'bridge shelter' program for people moving out of encampments as part of the Austin City Council's HEAL initiative.
Bridge shelter provides a temporary, transitional place to stay, often when an individual has been offered a permanent housing intervention, but access to that permanent housing is still being arranged.
Under the plans, which are subject to Council approval next month, the newly named Southbridge shelter will operate out of a former hotel temporarily being used as a Protective Lodging facility (ProLodge) for high-risk individuals who need a safe place to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices during the COVID-19 emergency response.
The former Rodeway Inn hotel, at 2711 S. IH-35 in south Austin, was purchased by the City in April 2020 using Federal Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and has operated as a ProLodge since August 2020.
"Providing immediate access to very low-barrier shelter with direct connections to housing resources is integral to the success of the HEAL strategy to help end unsheltered homelessness," said Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey, who briefed Council on the plan at Work Session today, April 20. "The identification of this property is an important step forward to implementing the HEAL initiative. Southbridge will offer residents a temporary place as they are matched up with longer-term housing resources. We want to work with the local community to ensure this shelter can be a success for both residents and neighbors."

Upon Council approval of an operator's contract, the new bridge shelter, which is currently undergoing renovations, would start operations at the end of May 2021. Current ProLodge guests will be accommodated in other ProLodges in Austin.
The new Southbridge shelter will include the following features:
  • On entering the shelter clients will be immediately connected with case workers tasked with linking them to rapid rehousing, which means they would ultimately move on to apartments across the city with rental assistance and ongoing case management supports.
  • This is an invitation-only shelter and will NOT be walk-up, avoiding the need for people to congregate outside the property every day to secure a bed or seek other types of services. Clients will be offered rooms to stay in and receive assistance as they progress into permanent housing. Their expected stay at the bridge shelter is temporary, not indefinite.
  • The property will have on-site security, staffed 24 hours a day, and a new fence will be installed.
  • The property has 87 rooms and each room has a bathroom. Some rooms will be used as offices and meeting spaces. The capacity of the property is likely to be limited due to COVID-19.
The City of Austin's Homeless Strategy Division has spoken with board members from the Timber Ridge Homeowners Association and offered to participate in a virtual open meeting to provide additional information and answer further questions. Engagement with the local community will continue over the coming months.

Earlier this month, the Homeless Strategy Division published a blueprint laying out plans for the first phase of the City Council's Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative, designed to address unsheltered homelessness in Austin. Under the plan, the sites of four encampments, in south central, east, downtown, and north west Austin, would be established as non-camping areas by the end of August, following extensive efforts to relocate residents through the provision of dedicated housing resources. A preliminary budget of $4.3 million has been identified and the negotiation of contracts and agreements for outreach, shelter, case management, housing and other support has begun.
The Austin City Council has named ending homelessness as the top priority for the city. Using a Housing First approach with a focus on hotel conversion, the City is investing in safe, easily converted living spaces that help people experiencing homelessness access the stability and care they need.