Austin’s new homeless strategy officer talks hotels, HEAL Initiative

Dianna Grey has been in Austin for 30 years. She says she knows there is a great concern and a sense of urgency regarding the homelessness issue.

"We have largely shared values about how we want to help our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness," she said Friday.

RELATED: Austin buys hotel to transform into supportive housing for homeless

The new homeless strategy officer has worked in the area of homelessness and affordable housing for 20 years. She hopes her experience can lead Austinites who live on the streets to permanent supportive housing. "There are many strategies for ending homelessness and hotel conversion is just one of them," she said.

Thursday, the Austin City Council voted to purchase another hotel, Candlewood Suites in Northwest Austin. She said those buildings are not just four walls, they are targeted interventions.

RELATED: Austin City Council voted on several new plans to help homeless community

"In those settings, we have robust on-site services. So, there are case managers in contact with tenants, making themselves available every day," said Grey.


Dr. Michelle Edwards is a professor and a member of "D5 for Black Lives". She, among many, agrees the homeless need to be housed, but it's the method that she is concerned about, particularly the passage of the HEAL initiative sponsored by Ann Kitchen.

Kitchen said the first phase of the resolution aims to identify four areas unsafe for camping and ban camping in those locations, and people to housing. Kitchen said they will not use police, but they hope to use social service providers to encourage people to get housing.

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"How do they plan on closing those areas? How do they plan on making it impossible for people to be there any longer? If you look at the history of how this has been done in the city it's typically been done through policing, through sweeps, through giving citations," said Edwards.

"Many folks in the community have concerns that this is going to reopen the opportunity for displacement on a wide scale for people that are experiencing homelessness as well as criminalization," said Chris Harris with Texas Appleseed, who feels this resolution could create a slippery slope for recriminalization. "We know this is counterproductive, it won’t help solve the problem."

RELATED: Williamson County wants 180-day pause on Austin’s homeless hotel plan

Grey said talking with at the campsite over time does pay off. They will be told they aren’t allowed to camp there.

"Of course there is signage, but one of the things we have found in our own experience and in other cities is that that continued outreach and engagement by service providers around that site can be really effective," she said.

The petition to reinstate the citywide camping ban, created by the group "Save Austin Now," will end up on the May ballot if council doesn’t adopt the changes.