Facing Criticism Of Its Homelessness Response, Austin Ramps Up Partnership, Seeks More Funding

The city’s homeless strategy officer says efforts are aimed at creating and offering more housing options.

By Joy Diaz & Shelly BrisbinApril 20, 2021 3:03 pm, ,

It’s estimated that 2020 saw a 5% increase in homelessness in Texas. The pandemic is a likely contributor to the economic losses experienced by people who are now homeless.

More than 27,000 Texans are homeless. No other city in the state has faced as much controversy over how it has dealt with homelessness that is both more frequent and more visible than before.

Since the city lifted a ban on public camping in 2019, tents and tent cities have emerged across Austin. Now there are bills in the Legislature to impose a ban on public camping statewide, and a local ballot measure that would reinstate the ban in Austin. Homeless advocates held a summit over the weekend to come up with next steps.

Dianna Grey is Austin’s homeless strategy officer. She told Texas Standard that the city has had a homelessness plan since 2018. The ballot initiative and bills aimed at ending public camping have caused the city to focus on details of how the plan would work, and how to fund it.

“I wouldn’t characterized this as something that’s being done in response to the political environment, but really, a joint effort on the part of [the] public and private sector – lots of community stakeholders who simply want to solve this problem in our community,” Grey said.

Grey says allowing public camping does not solve homelessness. Instead, a solution would involve going into encampments with offers of permanent housing, rather than relocating people experiencing homelessness to other temporary spaces.

“Typically, these are apartment buildings of one sort or another,” she said.

Grey cites Caritas of Austin, which is building a 171-unit apartment project that will serve many formerly homeless residents. Community First! Villages is another “fantastic project,” she says, where a number of “tiny” homes have been built.

“We really are excited about their announcement to produce another 1,400 homes over the next 10 years,” Grey said. “And the work that they will do, I think, will contribute in a really important way to the community’s efforts to end homelessness overall.”

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