AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin’s Homeless Strategy Division is updating the community on its progress in tackling homelessness a year after the vote to reinstate the camping ban.

The homeless strategy team held the first of two virtual community meetings Monday to discuss items like camping ordinance enforcement and the HEAL Initiative, which helps people experiencing homelessness access shelter and permanent housing. 

Ahead of the meeting, a KXAN crew went to three of the largest encampments in the city (before the camping ban was reinstated) to see how different they looked a year later. 

Areas like Interstate 35 and Eighth Street, along with Cesar Chavez and East Riverside Drive were filled with tents before the ban, but a year later, most of those tents disappeared. 

“I don’t know where they are going but whatever it is, it is working to the point where we aren’t seeing any pop-ups anymore,” said Tom Barber, who works on East Riverside Drive. 

Barber said he no longer sees tents lining the streets as the city continues to increase efforts to house those experiencing homelessness. 

Since the citywide and statewide camping bans went into effect, the homeless strategy team said there have been 242 citations or other enforcement actions. However, city staff members said they are now seeing more tents in green spaces and wooded areas that are not always in public view.  

“There has been an increase in people at Roy G (Guerrero Park) that is in part because there has been enforcement at Parque Zaragoza across the street at Longhorn Shores and a couple of other places in the area,” said Dianna Grey, City of Austin’s homeless strategy officer. “We are certainly seeing growth in some areas and that is directly related to enforcement in others.”  

At Monday’s meeting, some neighbors voiced their concerns about safety in those areas. The city said it is working on prioritizing those locations for HEAL and Austin Police. 

“One of the things we are looking at is report of behavior that is not legal or threatening in nature, I also think it’s been really critical to have connection of behavioral health services and outreach where possible so that there are relationships with people in those encampments,” Grey said. 

The city continues to inch closer to its goal of housing 3,000 people in three years. The estimated cost for that is about $515 million. The homeless strategy team says they are about 80% to reaching that funding goal. They are still calculating the money that is coming in and hope to update Council and the community soon. 

American Rescue Plan fund 

The City of Austin is eligible to receive $11.4 million of HOME-American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds and is asking the community to review the city’s proposal, referred to as an allocation plan, and provide comments on the draft. The public can weigh in starting May 3 through June 10. The Community Development Commission public hearing scheduled for May 10, and a city council public hearing on June 9.  

The city says the one-time funding of up to $11.4 million can be used for different projects focused on reducing homelessness and increasing housing stability, which include: 

  • Supportive services;  
  • Acquisition and development of non-congregate shelters;   
  • Tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA);   
  • Development of affordable rental housing;  
  • Nonprofit operating expenses; and  
  • Nonprofit capacity building.  

Hotel Strategy

On Monday, the city also discussed its plan of using hotels, including the former Candlewood Suites and Texas Bungalows, for affordable housing. Staff has identified more than 100 units at those two hotels and expects those to be ready for move-in by early 2023.  

Cold Weather shelters

City officials say recruiting staff for cold weather shelters is extremely difficult and COVID made it worse. They also say Austin police do not have the capacity to provide consistent security and city departments have to take on the costs of activating these shelters without dedicated resources for them. In Monday’s presentation, they said there is not enough food, toiletries, or personal hygiene products, nor mental and physical resources for various locations. 

They are looking to partner with more non-profits to help expand resources and services for the unhoused community.

The next virtual update from the homeless strategy team is May 3.