City of Austin evaluating homeless response following resignation of strategy officer

The City of Austin is responding to additional personnel changes this week after a homeless strategy officer, Dianna Gray, announced her resignation following two years in the position. 

District 6 Council member Mackenzie Kelly joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to talk about the effect this will have on the city's response to homeless issues.

Mike Warren: Did Dianna's great resignation come as a surprise or is this something that the city was expecting?

Mackenzie Kelly: It was absolutely a surprise to me. I found out the same day that everybody else found out. There were no indications on my side that she was going to resign. And it's unfortunate because the city needs a strong leader in the role of our homeless strategy officer. And so not having her knowledge, skills and abilities, there will be a difficult thing to overcome. However, we do have David Gray, who will be the individual responsible for leading that division. During her resignation.

Mike Warren: You know, following that resignation. You drafted a memo requesting the city conduct an audit of homeless services and the associated spending. How do you think that's going to turn out? 

Mackenzie Kelly: So I did. I drafted a memo, and it went to the city manager and I asked him to consider doing an audit of homeless spending. We have millions of taxpayer dollars every year that go towards trying to help solve some of these issues related to people experiencing homelessness. And I'm hearing from people in the community that I talked to that they don't see any difference in the progress being made. And for me as a council member, I want to see efficiency. I want to see that we're using those funds appropriately. And I want to see that we're using them as effectively as possible to lift individuals who are experiencing homelessness out of that situation. And I believe an audit will help us get to that point.

Mike Warren: Talking about the funding at the meeting yesterday, the City council approved the House Our People Endowment fund sort of a new entity. How is this different from the heel initiative, and where is the money going to come from to fund this, and how will that money be used? 

Mackenzie Kelly: So the Hope Fund that council put forward and passed yesterday, it's my understanding that it will be a different avenue for us to fund the different programs and situations related to homelessness. It allows for outside entities to be able to give to that fund and then also for those funds to be allocated by the City council for that use. It's different from the HEAL initiative because the HEAL initiative specifically has the use related to the program helping people in very risky areas in the city get connected to housing. This fund is different in that it will fund multiple different programs related to homelessness. 

Mike Warren: The city's approach to the homeless problem. Do you agree with the city's approach?

Mackenzie Kelly: I think we could do a much better job of educating the public and letting them know what it is that we're doing. And in order for us to be effective, I believe we need to be transparent in that regard. And I also believe that the audit will help with transparency. In previous council meetings, I've asked for us to put up some kind of dashboards, so the city can see how many people we've helped, how many people have been lifted out of homelessness and have certain data points so that when we are spending these precious taxpayer dollars, not only are we being transparent and accountable, but we're also being good stewards of those investments.