Austin Salvation Army moves ahead on new shelter, command center


New shelter will house up to 213 women and children.

Existing shelter has a capacity of 60 women and children.

New community center and area command will be in Rathgeber Village, near Mueller.

The Salvation Army of Austin will break ground Thursday on two major projects in East Austin: a new emergency shelter for women and children, and an area command building that will house administrative offices and a community center.

The money for both projects comes from a capital campaign co-chaired by Austin philanthropist Dick Rathgeber. The fundraising effort topped its $17 million goal, raising a record $19.2 million for the nonprofit, Salvation Army officials said.

The $12 million shelter — to be called the Rathgeber Center for Women and Children — will aim to help more women break the cycle of homelessness. It will be built in two phases on about 8 acres that Dick and Sara Rathgeber bought in 2015 from Travis County and donated to the Salvation Army.

The new shelter will be at 4523 Tannehill Lane, next to the existing, city-funded Austin Shelter for Women and Children, which the Salvation Army also operates.

The new shelter will be about 53,000 square feet, have 63 bedrooms and be able to accommodate up to 213 women and children, according to the Salvation Army. The operational costs for the new shelter is expected to be $3.5 million a year.

The capacity of the existing shelter, which the city of Austin is renovating and expanding, is 60 women and children. On average, more than 500 women and children in the Austin area are on a waiting list for shelter, Salvation Army officials say.

“These families are perhaps sleeping in their car if they are fortunate, or trying to find some shelter in a homeless camp, under a bridge, or somewhere else equally unsafe,” said Maj. Andrew Kelly, the Salvation Army’s area commander. “Our desire is to help these women and their children gather the tools they need to find safe housing for their family.”

Kathleen Ridings, social services director for the Salvation Army, said the Salvation Army’s current call-back list for emergency shelter includes 88 mothers and 194 children. A large percentage of those children are 5 years old or younger, Ridings said.

“People are usually shocked to learn how many women and children live in unstable conditions in our community,” Ridings said. “The Rathgeber Center will make a huge difference in the lives of families like these.”

Immediately after the shelter’s groundbreaking, the Salvation Army will mark the start of construction on the $6.4 million Austin Citadel Corps Community Center and Area Command.

Along with administrative offices, the 17,000-square-foot Area Command building will include a gymnasium, a kitchen, a community room and a chapel.

Site work is underway for the project, which is in Rathgeber Village at 4700 Manor Road.

Rathgeber Village is home to several social service agencies, including Austin Children’s Services, which cares for abused and neglected children; Big Brothers Big Sisters; and the Rise School of Austin. The complex is the creation of the Rathgebers, who donated land and raised and contributed money to build new facilities for the various organizations.

The Rathgebers donated land appraised at $1 million for the new Citadel building, and also pledged $1 million for the project.

The Salvation Army’s administrative offices have been in leased space since 2013, when it outgrew its quarters at its shelter in downtown Austin. The Salvation Army’s Austin-area command serves Travis and Williamson counties.

Dick Rathgeber said the new projects are “a perfect example of the city, county and the Salvation Army working together to help Austin’s neediest citizens.”

The first phase of the women and children’s shelter will have 121 beds, along with a dining room, kitchen, classrooms, a playground, case management offices and a computer learning center. The first phase is expected to open in the summer of 2018.

A second phase with 92 beds will allow mothers and their children to live independently as they transition from the emergency shelter to affordable housing, while continuing to receive casework management and other support services from shelter staff.

Jameca Mitchell, 43, said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the Salvation Army.

After serving time in prison, Mitchell was reunited last year with her daughters, now ages 7 and 13. Mitchell said the three lived with family and relatives, and even out of her daughter-in-law’s car for a time, before a bed became available at the existing women and children’s shelter.

Salvation Army staff members said Mitchell was motivated to improve herself, and she took advantage of every opportunity to work on her relationship with her daughters and increase her prospects for success.

“They were patient with me and provided everything I needed, from toiletries and food to counseling and support,” Mitchell said.

In late January, she and her daughters moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Northeast Austin, where Mitchell’s share of subsidized rent is $130 a month.

“I am just blessed across the board,” said Mitchell, who works at Goodwill’s Norwood location. “The Salvation Army was like a light of hope for me, and I am walking in that tunnel of light. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have seen my path or where to go.”

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