Help for Wells Branch homeless: Texas Bungalows hotel to become supportive, permanent housing
by Jeaneane McNulty, WB Resident
It is Friday afternoon, and my kids and I are heading up I35 to get “boba tea” – a weekly reward for completion of schoolwork and chores. We stop at the light on Grand Ave, and as usual, a man stands on the thin center strip with a sign asking for help. Today I happen to have a coupon for a free sandwich at a store within walking distance of this corner, so I mask up and hand it to him out the window. He thanks me. The exchange lasts only a second, but as the light turns and we pass under the freeway, my mind stays with this man, and with the larger issue of the tent community of homeless people who shelter there. How long has he lived there? Does he have mental health problems? Is he an addict? A veteran? Where is his family? Where does he go to the bathroom? Who will clean up the trash that the tent city accumulates? Did my coupon really help at all?
The growing issue of homelessness has come to roost in Wells Branch. As a community, we are no longer able to turn a blind eye to the growing population of housing insecure people as it spills from Austin into our neighborhood. “We never used to see so many” I’ve thought, and it is true. The number of homeless people is growing in outdoor habitable cities across the US. It is an issue that the city of Austin has recognized, and with the help of a redistribution of city funding, is trying to address head on. On Jan 28th, city council approved the purchase of Texas Bungalows Hotel. The 3-year old, 65 room property is located on the northbound frontage of N. Mopac between the Wells Branch and Scofield neighborhoods. According to local news reports, the city intends to transform it not into a shelter, but into 60 units of permanent, supportive housing designed to get chronically homeless people off the street and keep them housed. Residents of the new housing will be connected to services such as medical, dental, mental health care and work reintegration.
Wells Branch has a long history of helping our neighbors in need. While increased homelessness in our neighborhood IS cause for concern, there is much we can do as a community and as individuals to help address it. The first step is to become informed. The more I learn about the actual causes of homelessness, the more I have been able to move past my initial gut reaction (fear, annoyance, anger, guilt) towards compassion and real solutions. The next step is to get involved! City leaders and other local organizations committed to solving homelessness need involvement from Wells Branch so that solutions have the best chance for success here. We know our neighborhood best, and we live here every day. I have listed resources below to help our community learn more about homelessness in our area, and to engage effectively so that solutions reflect our values as a community and ultimately reduce homelessness.
Austin’s Homeless Strategy: austintexas.gov/homelessness
Causes of homelessness: austininnovation.wixsite.com/solveforhomelessness/current-state-of-the-system
Austin’s Homeless Coordinator is Dianna Grey. Email: austintexas.gov/email/health
Resources for those currently experiencing housing insecurity: austintexas.gov/department/safety-net-resources