AUSTIN (KXAN) — Taking questions from the media for the first time, Dianna Grey, the City of Austin’s new homeless strategy officer, vowed to improve communication with the public and set measurable goals in the city’s pursuit of ending homelessness.
Grey, who has worked in homeless services for two decades and lived in Austin for three, said the city’s immediate need is to scale housing supply through a transparent process with the community.
“It will be really important that council and our division identify, very clearly, what our production goals are and that we’re held accountable in the coming months,” Grey said.
Austin City Council voted to purchase a fourth motel, the Candlewood Suites in northwest Austin, for permanent supportive housing for the homeless on Thursday.
Area business owners and residents near the hotel protested its purchase, arguing it was too expensive and would cause problems in the neighborhood.
Grey reiterated the city’s goal of expanding its supply of permanent supportive housing — units that serve individuals experiencing homelessness who need daily support and are often disabled — and said additional shelter beds and rapid rehousing units are needed.
“This is not just about four walls,” Grey said of the hotel purchased for permanent supportive housing. “We are really providing the supportive services for people to stay housed and truly exit homelessness.”
Grey defended Austin City Council’s approval of the HEAL Initiative which passed on Thursday despite dozens of comments from the public suggesting it was a veiled attempt to reinstate portions of the public camping ban.
The initiative directs the city manager to identify dangerous and unhealthy camping locations in four areas of the city and to work to immediately find shelter or housing for those individuals.
The identified locations would then be blocked from camping, though there is no police or citation enforcement. Grey said her office will work to communicate with individuals camping in those lose locations about the services that are available to them.
“I think that the language as adopted and the message have been very clear that the charge to my division is to first connect people with dedicated housing resources and also come up with effective strategies as an alternative to criminalization,” Grey said.
The city is planning a community summit on homelessness in the coming weeks.