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Former Council Member Ora Houston weighs in on homelessness in Austin

Former Council Member Ora Houston weighs in on homelessness in Austin

I signed the petition because in my opinion the city should have had a plan in place before the ordinance was altered. Something as simple as partnering with the State of Texas to use vacant buildings on the grounds of the Austin State Supportive Living Center (aka Austin State School) for transitional housing, with staff to assist individuals with behavioral health disorders, substance use disorders, employment, housing, health care, etc.

City staff visited other jurisdictions over the past year to find examples of where progress is being made to address this issue. Seattle and Los Angeles are not in the top 20 in my opinion.

This issue is not only the responsibility of the City of Austin or Travis County. The State of Texas has some responsibility to assist with housing and/or providing additional funding for individuals living on our highways and byways. Many have been released from the criminal justice system or discharged from the state hospital.

In my conversations with individuals under IH 35 between 7th and 8th street and 15th street; and Cameron Road under Hwy 183, many have arrived in Austin from other states.

Another option is to convene a summit to talk with all of the individuals and entities regarding what can be done to actually move the needle in a positive direction to tackle this serious issue. There are non-profit entities, communities of faith, businesses, corporations, and individuals who are interested in or impacted by this complex and complicated community concern. Some individuals want employment, others treatment, others transitional housing, etc. The summit must include individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Difficult conversations must be held about expectations, theirs, the service providers and the community.

The focus would be to determine exactly who, what and where supports are available, where are the gaps, and once the gaps are identified, who is willing to step in the breach. If the services being funded are not creating the desired outcomes, it is time to identify a different type of service/support or another provider.

I repeat for emphasis, this is a concern for the City, County and State, there are no colors attached. We all want what is best for individuals living on the streets and in the fields.

– Former Austin City Council Member, Ora Houston

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