A new city council initiative aims to alleviate homelessness by increasing funding for homeless assistance programs. Homelessness in Travis County has increased since last year, according to a study by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.
Last August, the Austin City Council agreed on a budget that allocates more funding for homeless services. An increase in funding potentially means more support for programs that aim to help the homeless, said Kathie Tovo, District 9 council member.
Tovo said the growing homeless population can be attributed to many families in Austin living paycheck to paycheck.
“Housing costs are already taking a large percentage of their pay,” Tovo said. “For some families, if they get sick and they miss a couple days work, that can put them behind on their bills.”
The budget increase means allocating greater funding toward existing programs that focus on giving assistance to the homeless by helping them register for job and housing opportunities. Funding will go toward programs such as Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing, the Homeless Outreach Street Team and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, among others.
“We provide showers and meals and free laundry and some storage, as well as resources for housing and how to find jobs,” said Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps, the nonprofit that runs the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless shelter.
In addition to these initiatives, McCormack said the growing city and homeless population call for more homeless shelters.
“The City really needs to look at additional shelter, and possibly transitional housing beds, for people who are homeless,” McCormack said. “We need another center for services for the homeless.”
Environmental science freshman Justin Louden has previously volunteered with the homeless and said he thinks student cooperation and funding is key.
“The student body at UT is needed in volunteering, donating and advocating for the sake of the homeless,” Louden said. “Funding for the homeless to help them find jobs, food and a home will help to better our community as a whole.”
Tovo said students can get involved by volunteering with social service providers and donating to organizations helping the homeless.
“For every individual there is a different story,” Tovo said. “Approaching the situation with compassion is, I think, part of how … we will be able to respond more.”