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FutureStarrA Week Before the Salvation Army Shelter Closes
One week before the Salvation Army shelter closes, advocates are pleading for additional funding to rehouse those who have nowhere else to turn. At present, there are only 1,000 emergency shelter beds available and they tend to be fully booked.
Residents of the downtown shelter are feeling anxious and uncertain about their futures, yet community advocates say there simply isn't enough time to find solutions for everyone. Unfortunately, Salvation Army plans on closing its Downtown location soon.
One week before the Salvation Army shelter closes, a former staff member and residents have expressed their dissatisfaction with how the organization has treated its clients. Issues include understaffing and unsafe conditions.
According to multiple current and former staff members at the Salvation Army shelter in Harrisonburg, it is currently understaffed - particularly with positions responsible for safety of its residents and other staff members. As a result, safety precautions are not being taken or implemented properly.
Another concern is that shelter residents aren't getting the support they need to transition out of homelessness and into stable housing. Many of the clients at the shelter have endured trauma, so staff must demonstrate compassion while remaining firm, according to Laura Wilson, director of homeless services at The Salvation Army.
She said the Army should provide shelter residents with skills in cooking and clothing if needed, as well as financial assistance if available. Furthermore, the shelter offers the Army's Pathway of Hope program which links people to employment opportunities and resources for other services they may require.
Other issues facing homeless individuals include a shortage of shelter beds. The city and nonprofit are working hard to make both shelters more efficient, so people can be moved quickly when they require accommodation.
Despite the issues at the Salvation Army shelter, some city council members and other community leaders have asked that they continue operating it for another year. Mayor Kirk Watson confirmed to CBS Austin he had spoken with representatives of the Salvation Army and they are working towards finding a solution to keep the shelter open.
He also pledged to collaborate with the Salvation Army on finding ways to expand emergency rental assistance for downtown Austin's homeless population, something the city is actively working toward accomplishing.
At this juncture, it is critical to address these issues head-on as the Salvation Army shelter closes in two weeks and many of our community's homeless population faces the possibility of living on the streets once more. The Salvation Army's decision has sparked a wave of anger and despair among those experiencing homelessness in our city.
One week before the Salvation Army shelter closes, some residents there express concern about safety. They've heard that those displaced from the shelter could be sent back onto the streets once it closes.
One woman living at the shelter is worried about her safety due to an incident that occurred there last year. On May 17, an 11-year-old boy was tragically killed while walking home from school after being stabbed 20 times and left for dead on May 17. Though he lived at the shelter, those charged with his murder stayed there but eventually left without charges being laid against them.
Another concern is the lack of staff to adequately care for those staying at the shelter. Many guests are elderly, and some suffer from chronic illnesses which make it challenging to provide consistent physical distancing treatments.
According to a spokesperson from the city of Austin's homeless strategy division, they have been in regular communication with the shelter management to find alternative accommodations for those displaced by its closure. Unfortunately, they have yet to come up with any arrangements.
Other workers at the shelter have expressed concerns about mold in both kitchen and bathrooms, as well as lack of hot water for women in dorms. Furthermore, they claim captains are sometimes unable to reach them when someone has a medical emergency.
Before the Salvation Army shelter closes, these issues must be addressed. Not only are they safety concerns, but they put people at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and other diseases as well.
Many people are at risk of contracting COVID-19, a coronavirus that affects the brain and eyes. If left untreated, COVID-19 can cause blindness as well as other serious health complications.
Many cities across the US are grappling with the effects of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Las Vegas, for instance, has stopped taking new residents in an effort to prevent spread of the virus among existing guests. New Mexico also closed down Espanola Pathways Shelter due to public health concerns while Lockport CARES shelter no longer accepts new people.
One week before the Salvation Army shelter closes on March 15, more than 100 homeless individuals remain without a permanent place to live. While city and Salvation Army work on a transition plan, many face an uphill struggle with few options.
Last month, The Salvation Army announced their decision to close their downtown shelter, sparking widespread criticism and creating new challenges for local shelter and housing providers. After shuttering its women's shelter in Houston in 2018, they plan to sell the property and reinvest profits into other Austin programs.
Major Lewis Reckline, head of the Salvation Army's Austin area command, noted in a blog post that the 35-year-old building is aging and in disrepair. According to Reckline, potential financial losses could reach $3 million annually and the nonprofit organization is committed to selling the property.
Watson reports the city is working with the Salvation Army and other local shelter providers to develop a transition plan for clients whose current housing situations are about to change. However, on-the-ground outreach and provider sources indicate little progress has been made in this effort.
Paulette Soltani, director of organizing for Texas Harm Reduction Alliance - an organization providing shelter guests with assistance - expressed that the closure will hamper their efforts to find housing and access health care. She noted that Salvation Army's decision to shut the facility down will be seen by some as a "pure act of negligence."
People who rely on the Salvation Army for meals and overnight shelter may need to find other means of staying warm if they cannot secure an affordable place to sleep during cold weather. The Salvation Army typically opens its Emergency Overnight Warming Center when the National Weather Service predicts a wind chill of 14 degrees or lower.
Baluyot said the Aloft hotel has served as a temporary housing solution for Denver's COVID-19-vulnerable residents, but that will soon come to an end. Although not a long-term solution, she hopes the Salvation Army can find homes for all Aloft residents; she noted that lack of availability of housing in the metro area is an issue across America.
One week before the Salvation Army shelter in Downtown Seattle closes, there are still unanswered questions for homeless individuals and their advocates. Chief among them: what will become of nearly 80 individuals leaving the facility, and where will they end up. Although the city has a contract with the Salvation Army to keep the downtown location open until March 1, Mayor Kirk Watson reports that this agreement wasn't renewed by the nonprofit organization.
Rehousing individuals in Austin is an urgent concern. The recently formed Joint Office of Homeless Services has prioritized providing low-barrier shelters that permit people to stay at any time with few restrictions, as well as two new shelters set to open this summer and likely absorb Salvation Army beds.
Even if the Joint Office and other local agencies can find enough shelter space, the problem is far from solved. There are still a significant number of people living in cars or other unsafe settings around Austin.
Some residents in the area have taken to sleeping outside during the day, which may be doing more harm than good. Officer Joel Miller of the La Crosse Police Department noted a rise in people camping out at Burns Park - where many turn when they are homeless and don't have other options.
Other advocacy groups, such as Central Presbyterian Church, the Harm Reduction Alliance and Street Youth Ministry have reached out to those currently staying at the downtown shelter to offer assistance. These organizations are calling on Austin to address this crisis with additional resources for those who have nowhere else to turn.
The Salvation Army said they are still searching for transitional housing solutions for those in need, and will collaborate with the city in finding them a home. While there is no set timeline as to when they plan on relocating people from their Downtown shelter, they remain dedicated to finding housing for everyone currently staying there.