Homeless strategy officer says HEAL Initiative to begin this summer

Dianna Grey took the homeless strategy officer job three months ago in Austin. She said a lot has already begun to transpire since day one.

"We in the last year received a fair amount of money from the federal government for COVID response. We have placed contracts on two hotels that will eventually provide 140 units of permanent supportive housing," she said.

Then in February, the Austin City Council passed the $4.3 million "HEAL Initiative" which identifies four specific campsites that the city will target for rapid rehousing and ultimately permanent supportive housing.


"The HEAL Initiative doesn't explicitly change the ability to enforce where necessary but what it does is redirect us as staff to not rely on criminalization in those spaces but to be smart about how we designate spaces as non-camping," said Grey.

The strategy for these sites involves outreach, then temporary shelter resources, and after that getting people into permanent housing and repurposing the original campsites. Back when the resolution passed, many expressed concern that this would criminalize the homeless.

"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 Dr. Michelle Edwards, a member of the coalition D5 for Black Lives.


"We will be working to promote voluntary compliance and then we will be certainly as a community grappling with what enforcement looks like," said Grey.

The city isn't the only entity involved in the HEAL project. Contracts between agencies like Integral Care and ECHO are being developed to present to the council next month.