City leaders hope to reintroduce affordable housing
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Austin leaders think they can champion the push for affordable housing once again. Three members of Austin City Council are sponsoring a resolution that calls upon the city manager to explore ways of returning the issue to the ballot.
Voters killed a measure last November that would have set aside $78 million to help those struggling to find a place to live in Austin. The program includes projects Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said are crucial to ending homelessness.
It's an issue Jennifer Parker knows about firsthand. She has been homeless since August, sleeping on a foam mat inside a gymnasium each night.
"I don't wish my situation on anybody," Parker said. "Most of the people are a paycheck away from being me."
Parker now values the little things—even a piece of cardboard.
"I found myself in a new city with no support system,” she said. “I didn't know anybody."
Her husband at the time had a good job. They moved from Tampa in June. The couple had what Parker described as a great lifestyle, but then the job disappeared.
"It was pretty quick,” Parker said. “I mean, paycheck to paycheck, it went away in two weeks. He left, so I pretty much had to get up and stand up like a big girl."
After a few weeks on the street, Parker turned to Safe Sleep Shelter for Women. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole is leading efforts to try to once again get bond money for the homeless and families on the brink.
"We are helping people,” Cole said. “We are not carrying people."
Cole said Austin shelters are beyond capacity, more than 2,000 Austin ISD students are homeless, and the private sector is only able to support temporary solutions.
“The face of homelessness includes women, children, seniors, veterans, the mentally disabled," she said. “This is a big blow to our community and does not reflect--I believe--the values of our community."
Cole said she is looking to Miami's model, which cut homelessness by 90 percent over the past 15 years. She said transitional housing and permanent supportive housing are important parts of a ladder out of homelessness--projects that often need public funding.
Private groups like Austin Interfaith said they are overwhelmed.
"For our folks who are living on the street, there is not a pathway for them to get into any kind of home,” Clergy John Elford said. “In fact, they don't even see the hope for that."
Parker is determined to regain independence.
"I had bad days; I had good days,” she said. “I had a solid support group of volunteers and other homeless women to greet me every day."
Cole said she is not sure how much she plans to ask voters to spend on affordable housing. However, the goal is to put it up for a vote by November 2013.
Leaders are still looking for volunteers to help with this year's homeless count in Travis County. The count begins January 25 at 3 p.m. and concludes at 7 a.m. January 26. Teams will begin at the Travis County line and move their way into Downtown Austin. You can register to help by visiting Austin Echo.