Today, at work session of the Austin City Council, the City of Austin's Homeless Strategy Officer will provide a progress update on the Homeless Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) Initiative that was approved by Council in early February of this year.
Recognizing the growing challenges facing individuals experiencing homelessness, City Council approved the HEAL initiative to connect people living in unsheltered camping to housing or safe shelter, create a path to permanent housing, and over time alleviate the need for unsheltered camping.
Through HEAL, City Council created a more structured collaboration between City and County departments and community service providers all working together in this effort.
"What we have been doing is not working," said Council Member Ann Kitchen, District 5. "The real solution to ending homelessness in our community is still, and always has been, that people need homes, not camping outside in unsafe places. And that's what the HEAL Initiative does – it connects people to homes and services. It is past time that our community move quickly with real solutions, with the HEAL Initiative."
HEAL will begin by identifying four unsheltered camping locations across Austin that present health and safety risks to both those who reside there and to the broader community. HEAL will then connect those residents to the housing options that best match their needs, which can include rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and housing-focused shelter.
As important, individuals will also be connected to case management support and health care services, such as medical, behavioral, and substance use disorder services.
"Austin can do better for our unhoused neighbors who need safe and stable places to live," said Council Member Kathie Tovo of District 9. "I will continue to urge the City Manager to implement HEAL as soon as possible so that individuals living in encampments, including in the Downtown district I represent, can be connected to safe housing options and supportive services rather than continuing to shelter outside."
"If we truly want to ensure the health and safety of all who live in Austin, then we must be redouble our efforts to provide our unhoused neighbors with safe homes and support services," said Council Member Leslie Pool, District 7. "The HEAL initiative is a critical step in making that a reality."
"Austin residents are desperate for positive changes for our homeless neighbors," said Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, District 6. "The HEAL initiative's thoughtful and inspiring work to improve lives is just in the preliminary stages today, but will add up to a big impact over time."
"Right now, there are people in Austin who are forced to live in dangerous and unsafe conditions, unsheltered from the elements and other threats. The solution is not to criminalize and marginalize our neighbors experiencing homelessness but to help those in need and provide them with the necessary resources" said Council Member Pio Renteria, District 3. "That's what the HEAL initiative will do. It will bring city and community resources to meet people where they are and better connect them with safe housing."
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