Women back on the streets when pilot program ends

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by JESSICA HOLLOWAY and photographer MATT OLSEN / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on November 23, 2012 at 7:46 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 27 at 6:20 PM

AUSTIN -- Dozens of women may be forced to return to the streets of Austin once the city's pilot program, Safe Sleep Shelter for Women, ends Nov. 30. The 13-week emergency program was created in September after the murder of Valerie Godoy, a homeless woman who police say was murdered in June. Her body was discovered at a BMX park near Lamar and 9th Street.

"It's not safe at night, sleeping on the street for anyone, especially women," said Melissa Smith, who's been living on the streets of Austin for two years. "I've seen eight homicides since I've lived on the street. You get taken advantage of, there are alley fights, knife fights, bottle fights."

After several violent attacks on homeless people, Austin police stepped up patrols around downtown and at the ARCH. Advocates for the homeless immediately jumped into action to find safe places for women and children to sleep at night.

"Up to 52 women have been sheltered each night since Sept. 2. We've done more than 170 intake interviews, assessments, people who have stayed at least one night there. We have a core group of about 30 to 35 women who are there virtually every night," said Sharon Lowe, the executive director of Foundation for the Homeless.

Six churches volunteered to participate in the pilot program. Advocates say a minimum of 35 women have been staying each night since the program started. They've counted more than 170 women have participated since September. The program will terminate at the end of November. After that, the Salvation Army will provide 50 shelter beds for single women during December while interior construction is ongoing. Once construction downtown is complete, spaces for single women will drop to 30 to 32.

"We are very concerned when they do finish the construction and there are only 30 beds available, what happens to the 20 to 30 other women?" said Lowe.

Advocates say if there are others in need, they will work to find safe places for them to sleep.

"This is just a small opening of the door. It shows us congregations and churches can get involved," said Lowe.

To make matters worse, Lowe says Austin taxpayers did not pass Proposition 15. The measure would have set aside money for permanent supportive housing.

"Permanent supportive housing is a way to assist people in need by offering them subsidized housing until they can get some form of income. With a 98 percent occupancy rate, with apartments full, we need affordable housing in this city," said Lowe.

Correction:

Since this story aired, Pam Wachholz, Communications and Development Manager of Foundation for the Homeless asked KVUE to clarify that the home where we conducted the interview is only a model for the Safe Sleep Shelter for Women program. It's not a place where women in the SSSW program stay. The pilot program that was originally 10 weeks, lasted 13 weeks and only included women, not children. For the month of December the Salvation Army will provide 50 beds for single women while interior construction is going on. Once construction is complete, spaces for single women will drop to 30-32.

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