Friday, November 19, 2021

City Begins Second Phase of HEAL with High-Risk, South Austin Encampment

The City of Austin and partners helped 15 individuals move from a high-flood and fire risk encampment on City parkland off Old San Antonio Road in south Austin to temporary bridge shelter today, kicking off the second phase of the Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative.

HEAL carries out compassionate closure of homeless encampments that pose the highest public health and safety risks. Occupants are offered transfer to shelter, and connection to concrete housing resources. Located in the Slaughter Creek floodplain in South Austin, the encampment addressed today is at an extremely high risk location for floods and fires.

The 15 individuals moved to the City-owned Northbridge shelter in north Austin today. In the first phase of HEAL, which took place from June to August of 2021, approximately 150 people were moved from high-risk encampments to the Southbridge and Northbridge shelters. The Homeless Strategy Division aims to shelter and house at least 200 people through HEAL this fiscal year.

"Today, we were able to help address critical health, safety and environmental concerns, providing people with access to dignified shelter and housing services," said Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey. "While we are not currently able to offer immediate shelter and housing to all people impacted by the reinstatement of the camping ordinance, HEAL is an important strategy for responding to some of the most pressing needs, and we look forward to its expansion."

HEAL Helps Improve Encampment Interventions  

Austin City Council approved the HEAL initiative in February 2021. The Homeless Strategy Division has developed a mobile encampment assessment tool that measures 42 factors to prioritize encampments for HEAL intervention.

"Unfortunately, the City is not able to address every encampment in Austin with the same resources that are dedicated through HEAL," said Grey. "But HEAL allows us to more effectively target resources to locations presenting the most serious risks to health and safety."

Coordinated by the Homeless Strategy Division, HEAL involves multiple City of Austin entities and community partners, including the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), Austin Resource Recovery, Watershed Protection, Parks and Recreation, Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department, Downtown Austin Community Court, EMS Austin Travis County, Integral Care and Family Eldercare.

A Community-Wide Plan

Expansion of the HEAL initiative takes place in the context of community-wide efforts to dramatically expand the homelessness response system. Last June, Austin City Council voted to dedicate $106.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward addressing homelessness. Travis County Commissioners Court voted in September to allocate $110 million in ARPA funds to build housing units for people experiencing homelessness in the Austin area. The City will soon begin the solicitation process to expand capacity for crisis services, case management, behavioral health, and rehousing programs.

"We have tremendous momentum and opportunities to make a difference for the thousands of people living unhoused across our community. What we are learning through HEAL and other interventions in our work will ensure that we dedicate these new resources to improve lives and our community," said Grey.

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