How Austin’s homeless strategy team is picking which camps to clear next

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin’s Homeless Strategy Division will soon decide which remaining encampments across the city will be cleared out over the next few months.

The office is currently working on ‘Phase II’ of the city council’s Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative, which aims to place those experiencing homelessness in housing.

The council received an update at a special meeting Wednesday. The city’s homeless strategy officer, Dianna Grey, walked council members through the criteria her division is using when choosing which areas to visit next.

According to the presentation, the office is currently gathering input from various city departments including police, fire, parks and recreation, transportation, public works and HOST, the Homeless Outreach Street Team.

The departments assess specific encampment areas based on public health and safety risks, assigning point-based scores on items such as access to potable water, evidence of rodents and human waste, accumulated trash, risk of victimization, accessibility for first responders and risks to traffic and pedestrians.

Areas around downtown, East Riverside Drive, and Research Boulevard were identified on a map as possible locations for the second phase, which is expected to begin around Nov. 1, according to a city spokesperson.

A map shows potential locations for HEAL Phase 2
(Image: City of Austin)

Austin Dist. 5 City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who spearheaded HEAL, said Phase II’s success is crucial.

“We are seeing some areas being cleared, but (people) are also moving to other areas,” Kitchen told KXAN. “We need something like HEAL to say to folks, ‘This is not the place to be, but we have shelter and housing we can offer you.'”

HEAL Phase I took place between April and September. In that time, about 150 people were relocated from four targeted areas across the city. Those areas included the Terrazas Library in east Austin, Highway 290 and Menchaca Road in south-central Austin, Congress Avenue and East Cesar Chavez Street downtown and Highway 183 and Oak Knoll Drive in north Austin.

Many people were moved to the city-owned, hotel-turned-shelter known as Southbridge, along Interstate 35.

KXAN spoke with a woman who has transitioned to the shelter. Leelee Clay said she is working with a caseworker and hopes to secure a social security card, so she can work toward a commercial driver’s license.

“It’s a blessing,” Clay said. “Now I get my own place to stay. I get the boost that I need.”

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