US city to fund housing for homeless with money cut from police budget

28 Jan 21

A US council that took funding away from its police department in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests is to use some of that money to provide services to homeless people.

Austin City Council recently voted to buy a hotel – with a vote on buying another expected to take place in the coming weeks – and turn it into permanent supportive housing for rough sleepers.

The facility is expected to contain 60 units once renovations are complete.

The $6.7m required for the purchase of the hotel will be supplied by Austin’s Housing and Planning Department, but the $1.6m annual costs for services supporting residents will come from money redirected from the city’s police department.

Last summer, the council decided to shift $21.5m from its police department each year into other services – including $6.5m towards supportive housing – by cancelling cadet classes, closing some vacancies and not renewing contracts.

The move followed calls from Black Lives Matter protesters to “defund the police” and spend the money elsewhere in the community, which they said would achieve goals of reducing crime and keeping people safe without the risk of violence.

A 2020 count of Austin’s homelessness problem found 2,506 people were homeless, with 1,574 being without shelter.

“We have to do a better job of getting folks into houses and off our streets – out of tents, off our corners, out from under our overpasses – and we have to do it not only by looking at longer-term solutions,” said mayor Steve Adler after the meeting.

“We are going to have to start dealing with immediate, urgent short-term solutions as well.”

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