The City is currently making 85 bins available but hopes to expand the program with up to 200 additional carts.
The City of Austin has launched the Violet KeepSafe Storage program to provide storage to people experiencing homelessness. Located in the HealthSouth parking garage in Downtown Austin, access to storage will help people who live unsheltered attend service provider appointments, doctor’s appointments, pursue employment, and get some rest without worrying about the safety of their most treasured possessions.
The new facility is opening with a referral system, assigning 96-gallon violet bins to those referred by the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) or the Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC). The City is currently making 85 bins available but hopes to expand the program with up to 200 additional carts, and decentralized locations, which will allow more organizations to refer clients to participate. City officials will work towards employing more people with lived experience of homelessness to staff future facilities.
“This operation is all about investing in the health and dignity of our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” Ken Snipes, Director, Austin Resource Recovery said. “As I saw working with folks in Seattle and was confirmed here by the Austin Homelessness Advisory Council, offering a storage bin and a lock does more than alleviate physical burden or fear of theft. This service builds trust and lines of communication between our institutions and the people who rely on them to build a better life.”
"This is important for anyone going to a job or job interview but who may not want to show up with a shopping cart or a rucksack or backpack full of their personal effects," said Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter. "This is a major step forward for our support system in response to our homeless population. And it's just a first step. Our plan is to add additional sites and carts across the city. We are expanding citywide and will be able to serve hundreds more."
Inspired by similar programs around the country, this program was developed through collaboration by the Office of Design and Delivery, Austin Homeless Advisory Council (AHAC) and members of the Austin design community. This included prototyping operations in a parking lot for people experiencing homelessness to give their input and feedback on how it should work.
Steve Harrell, who had been living unsheltered since 2012, was a champion for creating the program through his role in AHAC. Recently housed, Steve works at the storage center as a clerk, continuing to shape how this resource best serves the members of our community who still need it.
“They got me from the streets and now look where I’m at. It’s a good income job through the City of Austin. It’s an insurance policy that I’m making for myself, so I don’t have to come back to homelessness,” Harrell said. “This helping people, that’s all we need to do.”
The new Program builds on an initiative by FrontSteps, which accepted 157 new purple storage bins from the City of Austin, quadrupling their available storage at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH). While safety during COVID-19 has impacted their availability to offer storage beyond shelter residents, those who have used the carts have found the large, waterproof and lockable units helpful.
“Having safe, accessible storage makes it possible for our clients to hold onto meaningful items, often received as donations, like full sized blankets, without carrying around that bulk and weight year-round. It’s also a place to store clothes and work boots for when they find work in kitchens or construction,” Amy Price, Director of Development and Communications at Front Steps said. “Not only does it reduce the physical strain of carrying every belonging in bags, but it helps individuals avoid the stares or other negative reactions from people who immediately recognize someone as homeless when they are carrying all of their possessions with them.”
The Violet KeepSafe Storage program highlights ways in which the City is supporting our most vulnerable neighbors. During COVID-19 the City of Austin is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines to allow people who are living unsheltered, or in encampments, to remain where they are at this time, to minimize community spread of the disease and maximize access to services. Individuals who are violating applicable laws that lead to the erosion of public health and safety, or are in unsafe areas may be asked to relocate. When individuals are asked to relocate, the City will make efforts to ensure that they are offered and connected to appropriate services.