New homeless housing complex to be built in East Austin

Artist rendering of Housing First Oaks Springs facility/Courtesy: Austin Travis County Integral Care

The Austin homeless population is nearing 2,000 -- a reason Austin-Travis County Integral Care is pushing for solutions.

"We are working to end homelessness in this community," Ellen Richards, chief strategy officer at Austin-Travis County Integral Care, said.

Richards said the behavioral health and developmental disabilities service is narrowing its focus on the chronic homeless who typically have mental illnesses or struggle with substance abuse.

Austin-Travis County Integral Care is planning to break ground on a 40,000 square foot facility with 50 efficiency apartments, an on-sight clinic and parking garage next spring.

The Housing First Oak Springs facility will house 50 chronic homeless people in Austin by spring of 2017. It will be located at 3000 Oak Springs Drive, just west of the Airport Boulevard intersection.

"Its low barrier housing which means we take people straight from the streets put them in housing and then we wrap supportive services around them," Richards said.

The location is drawing some criticism.

The facility will be built in East Austin replacing an existing drug treatment program owned by Austin-Travis County Integral Care.

"It seems that they are always kind of facilities on the east side and we have to take the brunt of it," said Ronald Harrison an East Austin resident.

Another concern is the proximity of the future facility to an elementary school only a five minute walk away.

Richards said the new facility will have security and staff to ensure safety. And added individuals with mental illness are not usually violent and are actually 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crimes themselves.

"I still think they could have found somewhere else," Harrison said.

The majority of residents KEYE TV spoke to said they are happy to hear a homeless housing facility was going to be built.

Residents like Andrew Roberson hope the facility will improve the community. "Anything to help them would be a plus," he said.

Austin-Travis County Integral Care began using the Housing First model in 2013. They placed 200 people in apartments across the community, two years later, 88 percent remain housed and used 70 percent less emergency and clinical services.

Cities like Seattle and New York have been using this model for several years and estimate housing the chronic homeless saves $20,000 per person a year. Austin-Travis County Integral Care estimates housing 50 individuals at the new complex will save the county $1 million a year.

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