AUSTIN (KXAN) — City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly is asking the City of Austin to do a full audit of its homelessness response, according to a memo. The request comes one day after the announcement that Austin’s homeless strategy officer is resigning.
“We have received Council Member Kelly’s memorandum and are looking into the recommendations outlined in the letter,” a City of Austin spokesperson said.
The council member is asking the city to provide “a detailed breakdown of the funds allocated for homeless services, including sources of funding (local, state federal) and how these funds are being distributed.”
It also asks the city to look at how well it’s coordinating between departments and other stakeholders while asking for community input on improvements that could be made.
“Unfortunately, sometimes the city doesn’t do a great job of educating the public on the successes they’ve had, or the failures,” Kelly said. “And so I think it’s really important to look for an opportunity to discuss those things and to get the ball rolling, so we can have transparency related to that spending.”
Kelly said the memo was in direct response to the homeless strategy officer’s resignation as she says stakeholders pressed the issue after the resignation was announced.
Homelessness Spending special report
In September of 2021, the city auditor’s office released a report tied to homeless spending. Kelly was the council member who sponsored that report, and Council Member Leslie Pool co-sponsored it.
The goal of that report was to figure out “how homeless spending aligns with City Council direction and city agreements.”
Kelly said while the special investigation gave information tied to city council resolutions, she wants a full audit, which would be a deeper dive into all spending, regardless of whether it was council-directed. It would also allow the auditor’s office to provide recommendations for improvement, which are not included in a special report.
“Not all spending action can be directly traced to specific guidance from Council. City departments have a level of discretion to allocate spending that is aligned with their department mission. Overall, departments appear committed to the City’s strategic direction on economic opportunity and affordability,” staff wrote in their special investigation in 2021.
Commission makes similar recommendation
It’s a discussion also had during Monday’s Human Rights Commission meeting, where commissioners — appointed by city council members to make recommendations to the council — voted to ask City Council to “make available to the public a comprehensive budget presentation that outlines the allocation of funds aimed address homelessness in Austin.”
The recommendation was brought forward by Muneeb ‘Meebs’ Aslam, who was appointed by Council Member José Velásquez. He spoke to KXAN, though not on behalf of the committee.
“I think having a transparent public budget presentation would be great for transparency and increasing public trust,” Aslam said. He believes the presentation should be a comprehensive look at the last ten years.
That commission meeting was done before the public announcement of the homeless strategy officer’s leaving.
Austin’s homeless strategy officer resigning
The homeless strategy officer coordinates the city’s response to homelessness across more than a dozen city departments and is often the public-facing leader of Austin’s efforts to address homelessness.
Dianna Grey, the woman who has been in the role for more than two years, is resigning, KXAN learned Wednesday.
Grey was the first person to work as a homeless strategy officer for a significant period of time. Prior to Grey, Lori Pampilo Harris was given the role but resigned after only a month in 2019.
Most recently, Grey has helped coordinate the opening of roughly 300 shelter beds at the Marshalling Yard and taking over the former downtown Salvation Army shelter. She was in the role when Austin reinstated its camping ban.