Austin’s new ‘homelessness guru’ has an impressive track record

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a long search, Austin’s new hire to reduce homelessness starts next month. Lori Pampilo Harris will be the city’s first permanent Homeless Strategy Officer.

“We have a lot of people doing great things for people experiencing homelessness,” Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk told KXAN, “But we have to make sure that there is a coordinated plan and that we’re all marching together to execute and implement that plan.”

Cronk says that’s exactly what he’s hired Pampilo Harris to do. As the city’s new Homeless Strategy Officer, her goal will be similar to one she’s already achieved in Orlando, Florida — a city that needed as much help, if not more, than Austin.

“I think Orlando, Florida and Austin, Texas are very similar. We have similar populations; we have similar challenges when it comes to solving homelessness,” said Andrae Bailey, the founder of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.

Bailey worked closely with Pampilo Harris during her time in Orlando.

“Even though Austin has so much success in so many different areas, Orlando was very much that way in 2013. Our leaders struggled every single year with a growing homeless population, and it really was this albatross that we couldn’t find solutions to,” Bailey said.

In just three years of work, homeless advocates like Bailey, who runs Lead Homelessness, were able to shrink the homeless population in Orange County, Florida from 2,937 in 2013 to 1,228 in 2016. Bailey says Pampilo Harris played a big part in those results.

Austin’s 2019 homeless count is 2,255 people.

While Bailey insists that having a point person to coordinate the city’s response to homelessness issues is crucial, he admits, “We found in Orlando that government by itself cannot solve homelessness. You need the business community, you need the faith community, you need advocates, you need hospitals, you need everyone at the table.”

Bailey says Pampilo Harris had a skill for garnering and organizing outside support in Orlando. They took a ‘housing first’ approach to combating homelessness, putting people in homes first, then addressing their individual needs.

“What really worked in Orlando, and what I think will work in Austin is leaders that can bring the community together to have big ideas and new solutions that, really, you won’t find unless you bring the top leaders in a community to the table,” Bailey said.

In the end, Bailey says Orlando’s approach saved the city nearly $20,000 per homeless person, per year.

Before working for the city of Orlando, Pampilo Harris spent nearly 14 years with Habitat for Humanity International. Her work included four years in Haiti, leading rebuilding efforts.

Bailey also says Pampilo Harris understands the compassionate approach because she was once a homeless young mother herself.

“Someone who’s going to be good at bringing solutions to Austin has to be able to combine the intellect, the strategy, but also the compassion to know that if we don’t care about those that are on the streets of Orlando or Austin, we’re never going to create the policies and solutions that transform their lives and transform your city,” Bailey said.

Harris will begin in her new role in September.

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