The City of Austin and partners helped 31 individuals move from an encampment near St. John Neighborhood Park to temporary bridge shelters.
The City of Austin and partners helped 31 individuals move from an encampment near St. John Neighborhood Park in north Austin to temporary bridge shelters, as part of the Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative.
HEAL carries out closures of homeless encampments that pose the highest public health and safety risks. Occupants are offered transfer to shelter, and connection to concrete housing resources.
“We have tremendous momentum and opportunities to make a difference for the thousands of people living unhoused across our community,” said City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey.
The 31 individuals moved to the City-owned Northbridge and Southbridge shelters today. In the first phase of HEAL, which took place from June to August of 2021, approximately 150 people were moved from high-risk encampments to the Southbridge and Northbridge shelters. So far in the second phase of HEAL, 94 people have been moved into temporary bridge shelters. The Homeless Strategy Division aims to shelter and house at least 200 people through HEAL this fiscal year.
“This park was important to us. This park is our history. The community who lived here have lived in the neighborhood for generations. St. Johns is our home,” said Luke Curry, a former encampment resident who is now staying in a bridge shelter.
This was a coordinated effort. The Homeless Strategy Division works closely with the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), Downtown Austin Community Court, and community partners, including Austin Area Urban League, Community Resilience Trust, Integral Care, Little Petal Alliance, Sunrise Navigation Center, and Front Steps.
“The St. Johns encampment is the exception, not the rule. This is what happens when we lead with dignity and human-centered care,” said Janis Bookout, co-founder of Community Resilience Trust.
Austin City Council approved the HEAL initiative in February 2021. The Homeless Strategy Division has developed a mobile encampment assessment tool that measures over 40 factors to prioritize encampments for HEAL intervention.
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 $6 million will be used for the HEAL Initiative. 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.