The City of Austin continues to make progress helping people experience homelessness find stable housing, relocating 20 individuals from St. Johns and NH IH-35 Service Road in North Austin to the Southbridge shelter under the Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) Initiative.
HEAL carries out compassionate closure of homeless encampments that pose the highest public health and safety risks. Occupants are offered transfer to non-congregate shelter, and connection to concrete housing resources. Since June of 2021, the initiative has relocated over 170 people from high-risk encampments to the Southbridge and Northbridge shelters. Over the course of the effort, 93% of those offered shelter and housing have accepted.
"Nearly everyone we have offered shelter to is eager to move off the street when we’re able to offer dignified shelter and real resources to get into housing," said City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey.
Austin City Council approved the HEAL initiative in February 2021. The Homeless Strategy Division has developed a mobile encampment assessment tool that measures 42 factors to prioritize encampments for HEAL intervention.
"Through this initiative, we are able to connect people to bridge shelters where they can begin to stabilize while service providers work to help them find permanent housing ," said Grey.
Coordinated by the Homeless Strategy Division, HEAL involves multiple City of Austin entities and community partners, including the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), Austin Resource Recovery, Watershed Protection, Parks and Recreation, Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department, Downtown Austin Community Court, EMS Austin Travis County, Integral Care and Family Eldercare.
Last June, Austin City Council voted to dedicate $106.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward addressing homelessness, of which at least $6M will be used for the HEAL Initiative, serving a minimum of 200 additional people Travis County Commissioners Court voted in September to allocate $110 million in ARPA funds to build housing units for people experiencing homelessness in the Austin area. The City is also expanding capacity for crisis services, case management, behavioral health, and rehousing programs.