AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin and partners helped a total of 60 people move from an encampment at Pack Saddle Pass and U.S. Hwy. 71 to temporary bridge shelters as part of the Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) Initiative, according to a news release from the city.
HEAL carries out closures of homeless encampments that pose the highest public health and safety risks, according to the release.
“The City’s HEAL Initiative provides a compassionate response to homelessness, a safe move from encampments into shelter, plus a clear path to housing and services. HEAL continues to focus on resolving encampments with the highest health and safety risk factors,” City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said in a release.
Since last summer, the city public works department said the Texas Department of Transportation cleaned up camps at underpasses more than 300 times.
The city told KXAN Monday there were 349 clean-ups from June to January 2022. Each month included more than 40 specific sites cleaned up.
The city also pointed out many locations had to be serviced multiple times.
The encampment at Pack Saddle Pass has previously caused concern among neighbors in the area.
Owners of a salon in the area told KXAN last month that the encampment caused safety issues and the salon lost dozens of clients and employees as a result.
Austin Police said at the time they issued a criminal trespass notice and were investigating.
A spokesperson with Austin’s Homeless Strategy Division explained to KXAN at the time that their Homeless Encampment Management Team was using a mobile app to “conduct encampment assessments and review data for consistency and accuracy.”
Those field surveys produce scores that are being used to rank camps’ priority and coordinate responses like targeting camps for the HEAL initiative, enforcing the public camping ban, cleaning up trash and dispatching social services, the spokesperson said.
Since HEAL began in 2021, more than 470 people voluntarily moved from high-risk encampments to Southbridge and Northbridge shelters, the release said. Successful sheltering and resolution of the Pack Saddle Pass and U.S. Hwy. 71 encampments was a collaborative effort with multiple departments, the city said.
Austin City Council approved the HEAL Initiative in February 2021. The HEAL Initiative is one element of Finding Home ATX, a community-wide effort to dramatically reduce unsheltered homelessness in Austin.
Both encampments are officially closed, and enforcement presence will be maintained while cleanup is conducted, the city said.
To learn more about homelessness in Austin, you can visit www.austintexas.gov/homelessness.