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Austin moves forward with plan to house 100 homeless by August

The homeless camp in front of the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library on East Cesar Chavez Street would likely be one of the sites addressed by the city of Austin's HEAL Initiative. (Jordan Vonderhaar)

The city of Austin has a $4.3 million plan to connect around 100 homeless residents at four camps around town with shelter or housing by the end of August. The camps will be designated non-camping areas within the same time frame.

Council adopted a resolution to fund and implement the Homeless Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL, Initiative on Feb. 4. On Tuesday members received an update on the first phase of the plan from Dianna Grey, the city's recently appointed homeless strategy officer, who mapped out a four-step process, starting later this month, when the city will conduct an analysis of four camping sites around town and establish a potential central shelter location from which people can be connected to housing.

The initiative will continue regardless of the outcome of the May 1 election, during which city residents will vote on whether to reinstate the city's public camping ban. "I don't see anything on the horizon that would suggest a barrier to us doing outreach and moving folks into housing or shelter," Grey said during a council work session on Tuesday.

The camp sites and shelter location

Although the city declined to name the site locations, citing the privacy of camp residents, the HEAL resolution lays out criteria that suggests the camps will be those along East Cesar Chavez Street and the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail downtown, in front of the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library in East Austin, at the intersection of Menchaca Road and Ben White Boulevard in South Central Austin and at the intersection of Hwy. 183 and Oak Knoll in Northwest Austin.

Starting this summer, the city and its partners will begin the process of relocating camp residents to a temporary shelter from which they can access transitional or permanent housing.

The city is looking primarily at facilities it already owns or leases to serve as the site of a shelter that can house around 50 people at a time in a non-congregate setting, which allows residents to have their own space and allows for social distancing and other pandemic protocols, Grey said.

Wherever the shelter is located, it will likely spark pushback, as seen with a separate strategy to purchase and convert hotel and motel properties into housing for homeless residents. There has been substantial resistance from residents and business owners near such sites.

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly meets with constituents who opposed the conversion of a Northwest Austin hotel into a permanent supportive housing facility for homeless residents.(Mackenzie Kelly, Austin City Council/Facebook)

"One of the things that we're doing as part of our due diligence is reaching out to those neighborhood associations in the immediate vicinity of the (shelter) facility to talk to them … and ameliorate any of those concerns that might exist," Grey said.

Next steps

After camp residents are relocated to the shelter, residents will be directed to transitional or permanent housing. "Providing immediate access to very low-barrier shelter with direct connections to housing resources is integral to the success of this strategy designed to help end unsheltered homelessness," Grey wrote in a Tuesday memo to council.

An oft-cited concern is that homeless residents will resist housing or other support services. Although the city will not force any unsheltered homeless residents into housing, Grey said the more pressing issue is inadequate housing supply. "We have an extraordinarily long waitlist for housing," she said, adding that some people may turn down offers to live at a congregate shelter or some other location that does not meet their specific needs.

The 2020 point-in-time count, an annual census of the city's homeless population, found 1,574 unsheltered homeless people, a nearly 45% increase compared to 2019, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. The 2021 count was canceled due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the city will work to restore the sites, at which camping will no longer be permitted, and work to ensure voluntary compliance using non-punitive measures, such as landscaping, adding amenities such as a community garden or playgrounds, and fencing.

Council will be updated on the HEAL Initiative on May 4, three days after city voters decide whether to reinstate the camping ban.


Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.

Mac and Cheese Fest and Free Art Exhibit
Waterloo Greenway, Good Vibrations Installation

🗓 All weekend

🎨 Creek Show Art Exhibit

Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities

All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park

✨ Mozart's Light Show

This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.

6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

🗓 Saturday

🥊 Kickboxing in the Park

This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.

10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park

🛍 The Front Market

Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.

11 a.m - 5 p.m | 📍Ani's Day and Night - 7107 E Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78741

🗓 Sunday

🧀 Mac and Cheese Fest

Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.

11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway