Thursday, January 26, 2023

Second anniversary of Candlewood pushback met with several surprises, announcements

Security fence around the former Candlewood Suites.

Wednesday marked the second year since Pecan Park Boulevard neighbors and business owners first read news of the city of Austin's planned $9-15M conversion of a Candlewood Suites hotel into permanent homeless housing and started banding together to stop it from happening.

MOVE Candlewood, the organization leading the fight now entering their third year, issued a press release and a year-in-review. We include that below. But this week featured quite a bit of other announcements from the homelessness solutions front -- with plenty of that activity on and surrounding the anniversary. Here's the summary:

CITY OF AUSTIN: Three items of note:

  • Council member Mackenzie Kelly hosted a late afternoon/early evening open house event Wednesday at the District 6 field office on Anderson Mill Road. Present were Austin Police Department representatives and a delegation from Family Eldercare, the nonprofit contracted with the city of Austin to convert Candlewood into a shelter. According to Fox 7, Kelly now supports the conversion due to the contract being signed with Family Eldercare and wished to help the nonprofit share information about its plans.

  • KXAN reported on Wednesday the opening of a Round Rock office for Endeavors, a grant-based org that searches for housing for the homeless. The announcement of the new office was made in December 2022.

  • After a two-year hiatus (allegedly because of COVID-19 health concerns), the Point In Time Count is scheduled to resume Friday. The PIT count is an effort to go into outdoor homeless camps and obtain a headcount of the unhoused in Austin. Volunteers are being recruited by ECHO, which conducts the count.

COUNTY: The day before the Candlewood anniversary on Tuesday, Travis County announced it was using part of its COVID recovery money to build  640 units including 356 microhome units, 118 tiny townhome units, and 166 Park model RV units in cooperation with Community First! Village on its southeast Travis County property. The estimated cost is $35M.

STATE: Newly elected Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said he intends on applying his years of experience as a Democratic Texas Senator to build relations with the Republican-run Texas Legislature to help solve the local homelessness crisis. Watson has signaled that he intends to abide by state law and Prop. B, which ban homeless camping in most public areas. 

NATIONAL: Homelessness reform PAC Save Austin Now leaders announced late last week they will be joining North America Recovers, a new coalition "made up of dozens of grassroots leaders, policy experts and nonprofit executives from the U.S. and Canada who have united to push back on destructive policies destroying our cities and instead advocated for proven solutions to homelessness and drug addiction," a press release from Tuesday said. Also involved is Michelle Steeb, a homelessness policy expert with Texas Public Policy Foundation.

* * * 

Below is MOVE Candlewood's release from Tuesday, indicating community members are optimistic they can work with city leaders to come up with a better location and solution:

AUSTIN -- This Wednesday (Jan. 25) marks the second anniversary of Pecan Park neighborhood residents and business owners squaring off against the conversion of the former Candlewood Suites (10811 Pecan Park Blvd, Bldg. No. 2, Austin) into a homelessness shelter.

While announced plans for the Candlewood are ever-changing and answers to community questions have been vague, MOVE Candlewood continues to oppose the city's lack of transparency and accountability on this project. MOVE Candlewood amplifies deep concerns about the impact such a facility would have on nearby homes, businesses, and community, including nearby family residences and school practice fields.

MOVE Candlewood has over the past year:

  • Co-hosted the Austin Homelessness Solutions panel featuring Community First! Village founder Alan Graham, homelessness policy expert and author Michelle Steeb, Travis County Sheriff's Deputy Drew McAngus, and Rupal Chaudhari, founder of MOVE Candlewood.  

  • Shed light on break-ins, property damage, illegal occupation, and burglaries occurring at the Candlewood property, which led to city officials securing the property with a fence and around-the-clock security patrol. 

  • Spoke out as $4 million in federal economic recovery dollars were mis-allocated toward renovating the Candlewood.  

  • Changed our name from Stop Candlewood to MOVE Candlewood (Making Our Voices Equal) to be better in line with our mission. 

  • Waited eagerly as a Williamson County lawsuit (filed June 17, 2022) and another lawsuit filed by the Chaudhari family (amended in March 2022 to reflect the city's continually changing plans for the facility) each make their ways through the legal system.

"We look forward to what 2023 has in store for our community and supporters," said Rupal Chaudhari, founder of MOVE Candlewood. "We hope in Year 3 of this movement to a be a partner with the city in finding a more efficient, more community-friendly alternative for northwest Austin's homeless population," 

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