Homeless strategy officer outlines blueprint for HEAL Initiative

It's been nearly two years since the Austin City Council repealed its camp, sit, lie ordinance, and since then, Austinites have seen large homeless camps grow across the city.

Now the wheels are beginning to turn on a city council-approved plan to address the homeless camping issue.


Back in February, the City of Austin passed the HEAL, or Housing-focused Encampment Assistance Link, initiative, which dedicates shelter and housing resources to those in homeless camps.

"The HEAL Initiative dedicates shelter and housing resources to unsheltered individuals living in encampments," said Dianna Grey, homeless strategy officer.

In a work session briefing, Grey came to Council with the game plan, describing how this would look. The resolution directs staff to identify four particular campsites, reinstate the camping ban there by August, and help get those people off the streets.

"Selection criteria was identified for four sites, generally located in the north, south-central, east, and in downtown," Grey said.

The plan will cost $4.3 million and includes rapid rehousing, case management, and outreach. Grey outlined the first step being outreach at the encampments. "At some point, we would do a census and develop a by-name list of who is in a particular encampment at a particular point in time," Grey said.

After outreach, the city says it hopes the individuals at the campsites will want to participate in the program voluntarily. "Develop a concrete plan of when people would be moving off-site into shelter permanent housing, or in some cases, folks may opt to go somewhere else," Grey said,


The ultimate goal is getting people into permanent supportive housing, which provides resources for someone to not only get off the streets but stay off. "In terms of permanent housing, we anticipate that the primary intervention will be rapid rehousing, which is both housing rental subsidy and intensive case management that can be anywhere up to 2 years," Grey said.

"I'm hopeful this initiative will offer us a way for people to get services and as you emphasized, the path to permanent housing with the kind of support people actually need to truly have housing and not cycle back onto the streets," said councilmember Ann Kitchen.

Grey says contracts with other agencies like ECHO, Integral Care, and the HOST team are being drawn up and will be presented to the council next month. Once those contracts are drawn up and approved in May, the kickoff for the HEAL Initiative will officially begin.