AUSTIN — Amid a citywide homeless crisis, city hall has a new plan: spend $8 million to put up 81 people in a homeless hotel.
Last week, the Austin City Council unanimously agreed to buy the southeast Rodeway Inn and convert it to a hotel for homeless people. According to officials, the place will be a “low-to-no barrier” shelter, meaning individuals can enter without any background check, stay as long as they want, and don’t need to be sober while they’re there.
“Folks will be able to stay there as long as they desire to,” said Matt Mollica, executive director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), the organization that will manage the inn. “There will be some folks that identify the hotel as a long-term solution. We need to be flexible and allow that to be the case.”
Doing the math, the city council will spend $100,000 per initial resident—and that’s not even including the ongoing cost to operate and maintain the place, though ECHO said they’ll pick up that tab.
The council’s decision has angered residents who live and work right next to the hotel. They said they’re already disturbed at the crime in the area, and that creating one house for all the homeless to live in, including registered sex offenders, will further threaten everyone’s safety.
“We have had countless break-ins into homes, car thefts, drive-by shootings, our mail being stolen and vandalized. All of this has been primarily homeless activity,” said Mark Thompson, vice president of a nearby neighborhood homeowners association. “We have spoken to [Austin police] on numerous occasions, and they have confirmed that this is homeless activity in our area. It is mostly driven by the drug trade that’s going on in our area.”
“It’s crack central,” said Andres Perez, who has a car detailing business next to the hotel. He said in his two years there, the area has quickly become dangerous, with constant drug deals and prostitution.
“Almost daily, I have to contact the authorities to be able to clear out people from coming in and buying drugs on my property after hours,” Perez said, who added that he is now always armed. “I’m constantly watching out for my safety and the safety of my employees.”
“To just put all [the homeless] in a really shoddy hotel a few hundred feet from where we live … is just going to make the problem so much worse,” Thompson added.
The council’s new homeless hotel is the latest episode in a tumultuous several months in Texas’ capital city.
The story began in June, when the Austin City Council made it legal for vagrants to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces across the city. Almost overnight, Austinites saw their streets, sidewalks, and highways littered with campsites and tent cities.
Council’s decision sparked a wildfire of public contention, prompting a slew of law enforcement and elected officials to speak out against it. Over 47,000 citizens even signed a petition calling for the law’s reversal.
After four months of public outcry and safety risk—and after a public warning from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over citizens’ safety—the council finally met and changed their law, but they chose to reverse only parts of it.
Now, the city council’s latest “solution” is to spend $100,000 per person to congregate the homeless in a “low-to-no barrier” motel next door to neighborhoods.
“I’m just really thankful to see it,” Mayor Adler said of the hotel. “My sense is that with this, we begin to turn the corner on dealing with this challenge.”
“If the city’s going to build this homeless shelter, they need to build a fence around our place, but I don’t want to live in a prison,” continued Thompson. “A lot of people are going to be leaving as a result of this.”