How do you ‘HEAL’ homelessness in Austin? This new city effort hopes to do it

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Homeless tents in Austin (KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s called the Homeless Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) and it’s a major effort between the City of Austin and several other local agencies to connect those experiencing homelessness with shelter and permanent housing.

The initiative was approved earlier this year and now it’s getting to work.

HEAL will soon begin locating four unsheltered camping sites in Austin that they believe present health and safety risks to campers and the public. Then, those residents will be connected to housing options that best fit their needs.

Options could include rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and housing-focused shelter. People will also be connected with medical, behavioral and substance use disorder services.

Under the plan, sites of the encampments, in south central, east, downtown, and north west Austin would be established as non-camping areas by the end of August. Each encampment would have a four-week clean-up timeline.

Ultimately, the goal of HEAL is to eliminate the need for unsheltered camping in the city.

To do this, the City of Austin has reserved at least $4.3 million for the first phase of the initiative. This will include $400,000 for housing/services, $1.3 million for temporary shelters, and $2.6 million for rapid rehousing.

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will report progress regularly throughout the process and additional resources will be requested.

“What we have been doing is not working,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, District 5. “The real solution to ending homelessness in our community is still, and always has been, that people need homes, not camping outside in unsafe places. And that’s what the HEAL Initiative does – it connects people to homes and services. It is past time that our community move quickly with real solutions, with the HEAL Initiative.”

Find more information on the HEAL Initiative.

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