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Homeless Strategy Office prepares to launch second phase of HEAL initiative

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Following the success of its pilot program last summer, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Office is moving forward with its four-part plan to tackle the city’s homelessness crisis.

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray briefed the Public Health Committee on Wednesday on the latest developments in Project HEAL as it prepares to launch its second phase in November. Over the next month, the city will aim to assess the next settlements it should target.

The HEAL initiative, approved by city council in February, had preliminary success in relocating nearly 150 of the city’s homeless people to temporary shelters as part of a program designed to provide a pathway to a permanent housing. As it enters its second phase, the Homeless Strategy Office seeks to expand its reach in an equitable manner using more sophisticated research methods.

The transient nature of homeless populations presents unique challenges in monitoring conditions in Austin’s many settlements. To fuel this effort, the division is working with 10 departments across the city to synthesize the data needed to indicate where to prioritize awareness.

“We talk a lot about the number of departments in the city of Austin that are addressing the issue of homelessness,” Gray said, underscoring the interdepartmental approach to this challenge.

These departments, ranging from Austin Policing to Watershed Protection, “leverage unique sets of tools and expertise,” Gray said, as each group interfaces with the population of without. – shelter of the city in its own context.

Last month, Project HEAL asked each of the 10 departments for feedback on establishing a short list of competing camps for phase two of the initiative.

“Recognizing that each of them brought their own perspective and their own missions… what we saw is that there is definitely a lot of overlap,” said Gray, of the sites identified by partner departments. .

Next, the division plans to apply a broad criterion of risks to public health and safety to assess the camps to be prioritized. In order to bolster the program, it has started hiring more staff with newly allocated funding from the city’s 2022 budget. The division aims to finalize the list and start launching relocation efforts by November 1.

As the HEAL Project prepares for further action this winter, staff have also improved the program’s data collection and analysis methods. Partner organization ECHO, or Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, joined with Gray in briefing the public health committee of updates to the program’s homeless management information system, which serves as a central tool. for data sharing and evaluation of project results.

The latest feature of HMIS is a public interface that shares metrics such as enrollment volume, demographics, and system capacity with the surrounding community. Those interested can consult the tool here.

While Project HEAL is designed with transparency in mind, Gray expressed the need to keep some details of phase two under wraps. She confirmed that the division would not release the final list of settlements, explaining that sharing this information could destabilize already dangerous sites with an influx of people seeking refuge under the program.

Given these issues, the public will have to wait until the next committee meeting in November for further updates. In the meantime, Gray maintains that there is a lot of work to be done.

“We have so many sites across the city – the need is so great. Part of the challenge is figuring out which ones we prioritize.

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