With closure looming, Salvation Army, city working to relocate downtown shelter clients

TSA's Downtown Austin shelter, which has been in operation since 1988, is scheduled to close next week
Salvation Army Austin Downtown Shelter
Photo credit Jay Janner / American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

AUSTIN (Talk1370.com) -- City officials said Wednesday they're working on a transition plan for clients at The Salvation Army's downtown Austin shelter facility, ahead of the shelter's planned closure next week.

The upcoming closure was an agenda topic at Wednesday's meeting of the Austin City Council's Public Health Committee.

Major Lewis Reckline told committee members that the facility, located at 8th Street and Neches, has been operating at a net annual loss of $3 million for several years, creating an "impossible" situation for the organization to continue offering services there.

The downtown facility first opened in 1988. Officials have cited the age and condition of the building as one of the reasons for the closure of the facility, which would enable TSA to focus its resources on its two other shelter facilities in east Austin.

As of Wednesday, Reckline said 32 clients remained at the downtown shelter, down from 60 earlier this week. The organization is looking at all available options, including other area shelter providers and, for those willing, relocation to other cities with available TSA facilities such as Dallas.

Interim City Manager Jesus Garza said the city will have a plan of its own by the end of the week. "This is a vitally important issue to Council and to the community,” said Garza. "We are exploring all options for placement and will have a solution by the end of this week that ensures each Salvation Army resident is provided for and able to stay here in our community if they wish to do so."

While some council members called the news of the shelter's closure a "surprise", Reckline told committee members Wednesday that the organization had approached the city some time ago about its challenges with operating the downtown shelter.

"There were a number of meetings with the city," Reckline said. "None of those folks are at the table now, so it's hard to speak to that. This has been an ongoing conversation for a very significant period of time."

Committee chair and District 2 council member Vanessa Fuentes expressed surprise, indicating her office would follow up with city staff to determine where those conversations broke down.

City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey, in a presentation to committee members, said the shelter had a current capacity of 100 individuals. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it housed 242 individuals.

Grey indicated the city has historically provided annual funding of approximately $600,000 to help TSA operate the shelter; the fiscal 2023 budget saw that amount increase to roughly $1 million with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act as well as additional state funding. A city memo to council members indicates that as of March 3, TSA has expended 100% of its city general fund and ARPA-funded contracts.

The shelter's 100 beds represent about 10 percent of the city's roughly 1,000 beds available for those who are unsheltered.

Fuentes asked Reckline why the organization accepted city dollars to operate the downtown shelter if it knew that a closure was going to happen. "In the hopes that we could work something out, we continued to do business as usual... until we [were] at a point where there [was] no room left for us to do anything other than close the facility," said Reckline.

Reckline said the organization's future plan is to sell the property, and that a valuation is being developed on the property - though no one has been identified yet as a potential buyer.

According to 2022 tax data from the Travis Central Appraisal District, the downtown shelter property was appraised at $10.6 million. TSA also owns three other nearby parcels of land appraised at just over $3.5 million.

Reckline told council members the organization's board will be meeting on Friday to discuss a possible delay of the closure, as well as the possibility for the city to take over operations of the shelter pending a sale of the property.

"We're certainly open to [the conversation]," Reckline said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jay Janner / American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK