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Austin wins $5.2 million grant to tackle youth homelessness


Austin was among the 10 communities selected from 130 applicants for the competitive grant.

Funding could bring new housing options and an emergency shelter specifically for youths ages 18 to 24.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded Austin a $5.2 million grant to tackle youth homelessness, a funding resource that could potentially bring new housing options and an emergency shelter specifically for youths ages 18 to 24.

Austin was selected from 130 applicants for the competitive grant and was among 10 communities across the country to share the $33 million allocated for the federal initiative aimed at helping end youth homelessness by 2020.

The HUD grant comes less than a month after Austin surpassed a challenge to house 50 youths in 100 days, and a few months after HUD certified that the city has effectively ended veteran homelessness. This week, Austin also won a foundation’s $1.5 million grant to aid homeless outreach.

“Austin will solve homelessness in a way that reflects who we are,” Mayor Steve Adler said. “We effectively ended veteran homelessness in Austin because we brought business, philanthropists and homeless service providers to the same table to solve an old problem in a new way. This HUD grant is going to allow Austin’s new homeless team to level-up the great work it’s doing.”

Youths experiencing homelessness confront a unique set of challenges compared with adults or veterans. More than half of homeless youths in the nation are asked to leave their home by a parent or caregiver. In Travis County, more than 2,000 students were experiencing homelessness during the 2015-16 school year, according to a 2016 report compiled by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, known as ECHO.

Youths who leave foster care, correctional facilities and mental health hospitals without housing plans, the report says, often fall into homelessness as well. African-American and LGBT youths also make up a significant portion of the homeless youth population here.

Over the next several months, many local nonprofits and agencies will come together to draft a comprehensive community plan to end youth homelessness, and they’ll turn to the expertise of a recently formed youth advisory council made up of homeless or formerly homeless youth to help guide them.

Among them will be Christopher Willemsen, 21, who experienced homelessness for three years before being identified by the nonprofit LifeWorks during the 100-day challenge. Willemsen received housing in the fall of 2016, and it’s changed his life. “I get to go home to a hot shower,” he said. “I have two jobs and a baby on the way now.”

Other cities that received the HUD grant include San Francisco and Seattle.

“The first thing we have to do as a community is to step back and make sure that we are all understanding the problem and then build out an effective menu of services,” said Susan McDowell, LifeWorks executive director. “No one agency will end youth homelessness; it’s only when we work as one that we can tackle this.”

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