AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly a year after the city of Austin launched its HEAL initiative to help people experiencing homelessness access shelter and permanent housing, the program has served 182 people who’ve been relocated from six city encampments.

Since fiscal year 2021-22 began Oct. 1, the initiative has served 40 people who’ve relocated from two encampments, with a fiscal year goal of 200 people assisted.

Dianna Grey, the city of Austin’s homeless strategy officer, said the program relocated its first residents six months ago. Currently, the program has a 93% rate of acceptance into shelter, with the majority of people offered shelter taking it.

This, she said, is a substantial update in both the city and community’s homelessness response.

“In other words, of individuals in encampments that we offered transfers to shelter, 93% have said yes and made that move into shelter,” she said. “Which is, I think, an important data-driven point when we are confronted sometimes with the idea that people experiencing unsheltered homelessness prefer to live in those conditions.”

Last fiscal year, the city provided $3 million in funding to the HEAL initiative. This year, Grey said the program anticipates approximately $7.5 million in funds.

In the year to date, 32 people have been permanently rehoused through the program, she said. However, she noted Austin’s tight rental real estate scene as a source of difficulty for securing those permanent housing resources.

With a competitive rental market, she said that also impacts the number of unsheltered residents the city can assist — the longer people stay in shelter before securing permanent housing, the longer the delay in providing shelter services to residents at other encampments.

“As long as they are in that bridge shelter bed, that constrains our ability to address more encampments and move more people into shelter,” she said.

Beyond the HEAL initiative, Grey said the city’s Homeless Strategy Office is working on three core objectives through its $515 million Summit Investment Plan. These focuses include:

  • Helping people by housing an additional 3,000 people over the course of three years, and providing other support to another 2,000 people to assist in housing and stabilization efforts
  • Adding concrete housing capacity to Austin’s network, in the form of 1,300 new units
  • Improving performance management, building capacity and access and outcomes metrics with an equity lens

To date, the city has approximately 80% funding committed toward the $515 million summit investment plan. These have been largely supplemented through donations from the St. David’s Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Federal Home Loan Bank. Approximately $100 million remains to be secured, Grey said.

Akeisha Johnson-Smothers, community-based resources unit manager with Austin Public Health, said the department is assisting with a three-phased social services rollout to Austin’s homeless population. APH will help allocate roughly $79 million in the city’s $106.7 million homeless funding for these phases, which include:

  • Housing stabilization with focuses on permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, landlord outreach efforts, navigation and moving supplies: $53 million in funding
  • Crisis response efforts through shelter and street outreach: tentatively $10-$12 million in funding
  • Assisting in employment services, behavioral health benefits access and capacity building: approximately $10 million in funding

Requests for proposals for each phase’s application begin this spring, she said.