Austin’s new homeless officer moving to ‘consulting role’ 1 month after hire

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin recently announced its brand-new Homeless Strategy Officer, Lori Pampilo Harris, will be moving to a consulting role.

In a letter sent to Mayor Steve Adler and City Council members, Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales wrote: “Lori’s family obligations are such that she will be transitioning to a consultant role rather than a full-time employee role.”

“We appreciate the work Lori’s done thus far in this short amount of time, and we look forward to continuing to work with her. In her revised role, she will continue guiding us in matters surrounding homelessness,” Gonzalez wrote.

Pampilo Harris said in a statement she is committed to ending homelessness in Austin and reiterated that although she will not be a city employee, she will continue to perform many of the same functions as a consultant.

“This was not a decision I made lightly and I’ve had previous conversations with my immediate supervisor,” Pampilo Harris said in a statement. “I’m deeply appreciative of their understanding and willingness to work with me in a way that allows me to meet my family obligations and continue the work we’ve started. Working together, as a community, we can successfully address homelessness in Austin.”

Pampilo Harris was hired in August and started working for the City of Austin Sept. 9. She was on the job full-time for almost exactly one month. Her yearly salary was $155,000, according to the city. Before her time in Austin, Pampilo Harris was a Senior Advisor on Homelessness and Social Services to the mayor of Orlando.

Despite an ongoing political controversy surrounding the issue, Council member Ann Kitchen, District 5, tells KXAN the change was not over disagreements in city ordinances or the new shelter council approved in south Austin.

“Absolutely not. No. No. She never mentioned to me that she had any concerns about the shelter,” said Kitchen.

The next council meeting on homelessness will be on Oct. 17 and Kitchen hopes it focuses the city on the next steps.

“A more specific roadmap. A roadmap and a dashboard,” said Kitchen. “We can say these are the next steps. These are when it’s going to happen. Here’s how we’re measuring progress,”

Mayor Adler told KXAN Thursday, “Homelessness is our top priority, and I look forward to continuing to work with Lori and profit from her expertise.”

When it comes to ending homelessness in Austin, council members Paige Ellis and Jimmy Flannigan vouched for Pampilo Harris on Friday.

“She’s just incredibly experienced and well-balanced to help us tackle this problem,” said Ellis.

The two council members believe Pampilo Harris will have more authority as a consultant, better equipped for potential clashes with other city leaders.

“I think Lori is really in a position where we need her to be direct, we need her to be strong and debate with council members in a way that city staff find it difficult to do,” said Flannigan.

The change in position comes as Austin is working to address homelessness in the city.

It has continued to discuss homeless rules following community feedback after easing restrictions in July about where homeless people can sit, lie and camp. The city has also approved adding a multi-million dollar, 100-bed shelter in south Austin along Ben White Boulevard, which has also prompted a lawsuit from a nearby resident.

This local issue attracted statewide attention when Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the mayor at the beginning of the month, giving him a deadline of Nov. 1 to fix what he called the city’s “homeless crisis” before he had state agencies step in.

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