Urgent Issues Action Plan


 

HOMELESSNESS

The crisis of homelessness in Austin/Travis County is greater than commonly known or acknowledged. Conservative estimates indicate that over 3,625 families and individuals are homeless on any given day in our community. Despite the strength and growth of the economy over the past decade, over 12% of Travis County residents continue to live in poverty and an increasing number of families are becoming homeless. As Austin/Travis County continues to grow, so does the division between its very rich and very poor residents. As rapid growth drives up the cost of living, more residents become at risk of homelessness. This trend is in part the result of several factors:

  • Wage levels have not kept pace with the rising cost of housing. While housing costs in the area have increased 70% since 1990, the median household income has increased only 42%.
  • Austin is recognized as having the highest rental housing costs in Texas and the 16th most expensive apartment market in the country.
  • In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent ($820 per month), full-time workers need to earn $16 per hour, almost three times the minimum wage.

People become homeless for many reasons: lack of affordable housing, enduring poverty, family violence, medical and financial crisis, chronic health problems, and untreated mental illness and substance abuse. These factors can cause homelessness as well as influence how easily a person will be able to make the transition from homelessness to housing and independent living. In order to respond to the complex and multiple needs of the homeless, the community has developed a Continuum of Care that both prevents and resolves homelessness through comprehensive and individualized services provided through several levels of intervention:

  • Prevention of homelessness through rental assistance, landlord/tenant mediation, and legal advocacy
  • Outreach to inform people of and engage them in available services.
  • Intake and Assessment to develop an individualized plan of action with homeless clients based on their reported history, current situation, resources and goals.
  • Emergency Shelter to provide temporary, immediate shelter (30-90 days)
  • Transitional Housing to provide low-cost housing for up to 24 months, along with supportive services to help homeless persons transition to permanent housing.
  • Permanent Affordable Housing in which an individual intends to live for longer than 6 months, and which costs no more than 30% of gross household income.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing that allows families and individuals with special needs to live as independently as possible in affordable, supportive environments.
  • Supportive Services to provide the comprehensive skills, assistance and support that homeless people need to transition out of homelessness (e.g., child care, education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, case management).

The Homelessness Planning Process
The Community Action Network Homeless Task Force's Program Assessment and Planning Committee is charged with assessing the needs of homeless persons in Austin, and developing strategies for meeting these needs. After reviewing previous planning documents, including the 1996 Comprehensive Plan for Addressing Homelessness in Austin/Travis County and the 1998 Update, this committee evaluated current priorities within homeless services. The stakeholders involved in this process represented all segments of the homeless population, including single adults, families, and youth, as well as governmental and community organizations. They brought expertise on the issues of mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other key issues contributing to homelessness. This matrix has been presented to the voting members of the Homeless Task Force for feedback and approval. The Task Force approved the urgent issues plan on February 23, 2001.

Strategies for Addressing Homelessness
The Assessment and Planning Committee identified four urgent issues across the entire Continuum of Care for homeless services described above, and recommended solutions and actions to address each of these critical needs. The urgent issues identified in this matrix are intended to complement existing efforts by the City, the County, and service provider agencies, and to address a range of housing needs, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent affordable housing and homelessness prevention. The desired result for the identified urgent issues include:

  • More homeless families and individuals will secure and maintain affordable housing.
    Individuals and families employed in low-wage jobs are often unable to pay housing costs. Social service, governmental, business, neighborhood and community groups need to work together to increase the stock of affordable single-room and family rental units.
  • More homeless people will have access to transitional housing programs and successfully transition to permanent housing with greater self-sufficiency.
    For many homeless individuals and families, a period of supported living, with access to child care, case management, job training, and counseling, will greatly increase their ability to access and maintain permanent housing and self-sufficiency.
  • More families with children, chronically homeless individuals, and street youth will have access to shelter in environments that are safe and that offer appropriate services.
    Currently, the number of persons needing emergency shelter on any given day exceeds the available beds by 60%. Access to safe, overnight shelter is often a prerequisite for homeless persons wanting to address more comprehensive issues, such as employment, health, and permanent housing.
  • More households will stabilize from financial crisis and maintain permanent housing.
    Many individuals and families are living on the edge of homelessness; crossing this line can disrupt employment, health, education, and other areas of one's life. Investing in helping people to maintain their housing and stability now will decrease the resources needed later for the more resource-intensive homelessness programs.

The Homelessness Planning Matrix

The attached matrix outlines the urgent issues and desired results described above, and provides supporting data to illustrate the critical needs within each area. The proposed solutions for each urgent issue are followed by recommended actions and opportunities for participation in the solutions by all sectors of the community, as well as a list of existing participants with whom they can collaborate. The focus of the action steps is on harnessing resources from the community to increase availability of shelter and housing across the Continuum of Care, and to prevent homelessness for those who are precariously housed.

The CAN Homeless Task Force Assessment and Planning Committee is chaired by Angela Atwood of SafePlace who can be reached at (512) 385-5181. Staff support is provided by Mary Rychlik, Homeless Services Coordinator for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department and can be reached at (512) 707-5929 or by email at Mary.Rychlik@austin.ci.tx.us.

2001 Urgent Issues Action Plan Home Page