City Bond Vote: How Much Help for Homeless?
Finding shelter beds for the homeless in Austin isn’t an easy task. It’s even harder for single homeless women; few groups in Austin offer beds to them. But with six Austin homeless people killed since last November, advocates have begun pressing the city for more beds, and implementing their own emergency plans.
This November, Austinites will vote on a bond package of about $385 million. Irit Umani, executive director of Trinity Center, a daytime downtown shelter for homeless people, hopes part of that money will be used to expand shelter options for homeless women and children.
Umani has pleaded with both the mayor and with City Council members. “We came to this process late, but the urgent call was heard and they are very supportive,” Umani said.
The bond package has yet to be finalized, which means Umani still has a chance to get money for extra beds. But at a work session Tuesday, Mayor Lee Leffingwell reminded council members that they can’t sell more than $385 million in bonds without raising taxes. So adding homeless beds would mean cutting something else.
“It has been a difficult process because the needs are so great and they are so many,” Leffingwell said. “I will say that I haven’t seen a single proposal that doesn’t have merit, but given the constraints that we are operating with, we have to make those difficult choices.”
The council has until Monday to finalize the bond package. In the meantime, Umani says, homeless women can’t wait. Trinity Center and other organizations have opened up every available space to allow as many women as possible to at least spend their nights indoors.
The Salvation Army is across the street from Trinity Center. It’s a hot afternoon, above 100 degrees, and a woman sleeps on the scorching cement by the shelter’s door.
Randy Allen with the Salvation Army says the 59 beds there are occupied every night.
“We have opened up just a baby bit of space to take in another five to seven women per night,” Allen said.
That space has no beds. Catherine Haynes doesn’t mind; any indoor space is appreciated. Still, on nights when she can find shelter, she fears for the other women who sleep in the woods or on the streets. The thought of the recent killings is still raw.
“I don’t see why they couldn’t put them in parks and have somebody watch at night,” Haynes said. “Or put them in the community centers and let them be there at night and leave in the morning. There’s restrooms, they wouldn’t be having to use the streets, they wouldn’t be ticketed.”
Umani and other advocates have been able to find floor space in five local churches. She hopes more churches will join her cause, but beyond that, she hopes the City Council finds a way to keep the proposed money to shelter women and children on the bond.
“We all want the bridges and the parks, and the art centers,” she said. “But all those, which I highly support, are not about life and death. We all should feel guilty.”
The City Council resumes negotiations on the bond package today.