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Austin homeless summit sets goal to house 3,000 people in 3 years

The plan is just the latest development to come out of the ongoing, weeks-long summit.

AUSTIN, Texas — As the Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness in Austin continues, local leaders on Thursday laid out a shared goal to rehouse 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in three years.

This strategic plan will include a system-wide and equitable approach to rehousing those in need, organizers say, including investment in local infrastructure to support the plan's interventions.

“Today is a turning point for people in Austin experiencing homelessness as well as for the community as a whole,” said Lynn Meredith, chair of the coalition’s Core Leadership Planning Group and ECHO Board member. “For the first time, we have a strategy that is based on a shared vision for how to accelerate our response to unsheltered homelessness in Austin. It’s a culmination of the work done during the summit, but also reflects the many years of input from dedicated citizens and leaders, and community conversations that have occurred – including many forums, hearings and panels that have taken place over the past several years.”

This virtual summit has been meeting since March 23. It includes a diverse set of city leaders, advocates, service providers, business groups and philanthropists with a goal to develop a comprehensive implementation plan. They are also working to set periodic benchmarks to measure their success and to ensure that Austin stays on course to meet long-term goals.

Starting Thursday, the plan aims to house 100 people by June, 200 by August, 400 by December, 1,200 by October 2022 and 3,000 by April 2024

"The goals are met through a combination of rehousing interventions including, but not limited to a radical expansion of affordable housing and near-term rehousing strategies to rapidly reduce encampments," wrote a spokesperson for the summit in a press release. "A series of 24 targeted rehousing activations, which are immediate opportunities for our neighbors experiencing homelessness to move to housing, will take place over the next 18 months with the goal of rehousing more than 1,200 people. Rehousing activations are a proven practice that supports the rapid rehousing of individuals and the management of shared public spaces. Additional elements of the plan range from one-time rental assistance to permanent housing subsidies and wrap-around services known as permanent supportive housing."

Matthew Mollica, the executive director of ECHO, explained to KVUE on Thursday that one strategy planned is working with, and incentivizing landlords. 

"Working with private landlords and developers and saying, 'Hey, you know, we've got people in need. We've got resources to help transition people into your housing units. Are you willing to work with us?'" he said. 

He added the plan can be audited at any time to keep up with their progress. 

"I would say the key to what we're going to be doing is over time and consistently auditing our progress, looking at the landscape, how it's changed, it changed and shifted. Using data to inform and drive our decision-making is going to be key – getting better data, having transparent data. All those things are going to be key," he said. 

The summit included a series of working groups focused on six key service and activity areas:

  • Prevention/diversion
  • Crisis beds
  • Permanent supportive housing
  • Rapid re-housing
  • Street management
  • Encampment response

In a series of two-hour sessions, members of these groups were given the opportunity to present their priorities and goals in each area, each bringing their own experiences and backgrounds to the table for discussion. 

The framework for the summit was created in December 2020, when groups such as Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), the Downtown Austin Alliance, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Justice Coalition, Homes Not Handcuffs, Notley’s HomeFront Fund, Mayor Steve Adler and Diane Land contracted with Clutch Consulting Group, a social services consulting firm based in the Houston area.

Clutch served as facilitators for the summit and worked to make sure various data and feedback provided before and during the working groups were incorporated and aligned in the implementation plan and schedule.

"A permanent governance structure responsible for driving and monitoring progress and mobilizing the resources required for implementation will be put in place in the upcoming days," the spokesperson said. "The summit coalition encourages the community to review the strategy and seeks additional partners and allies to execute the action items to address unsheltered homelessness in Austin."

Mayor Adler released the following statement Thursday:

“Austin must take bold and immediate next steps to further address and prevent homelessness. I am proud to have helped initiate this first-of-its-kind Summit to End Unsheltered Homelessness in Austin alongside incredible community partners, advocates, experts, council colleagues, and other elected officials, and business leaders that worked together to develop a new path forward.

“To meet the challenge of homelessness in Austin, we must address the lack of housing, mental health and other services, and equity in our systems. This is a big challenge and we need to act in big ways. Through this Summit, we have set bold goals using a multi-faceted approach to advance the work by housing 3,000 residents over 3 years, with the first 100 by June.

“This approach will meet the challenge of homelessness and create dignity for our unhoused residents without pushing them further into the shadows. Government cannot do this alone and great appreciation is due the community partners stepping up to help lead this effort. Now that we’re beginning to exit the COVID-19 virus, Austin will start to see real results and successes with homelessness.”

RAW: Local homelessness expert speaks on Austin summit

But some groups have questioned the practicality of the plan, including SafeHorns, a group that advocates for public safety on UT Austin's campus. 

"I think looking at the numbers ... is it sustainable? And I think just having the conversation of, like I said back in 2019, from where we are now," said Joell McNew, the president of SafeHorns. "So it'll be very interesting to see how this moves forward. I think the true test will be the HEAL Initiative and how that plays out, and hopefully gets people housed right away."

She adds she has concerns over the practicality of the strategy of incentivizing landlords. 

"I think it's going to be very challenging in this market, in Austin, to come up with landlords who are going to have available space and have affordability to accept people through their voucher system when, like I said, it's a struggle for our students and and other citizens already," she said. 

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