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City leaders pass HEAL initiative, partially reinstating the homeless camping ban

The resolution aims to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing-focused services and supports.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council on Thursday passed an amended HEAL resolution, which could partially reinstate the homeless camping ban in four high-traffic areas.

The resolution was passed 8-3, with Natasha Harper-Madison, Greg Casar and Vanessa Fuentes voting against.

“Today we took action toward our shared goals of providing a path to permanent housing and ensuring that no one lives unsheltered in unsafe conditions. Our unhoused neighbors deserve compassionate protection for safe places to live,” said Councilmember Ann Kitchen Thursday.

Previously, the District 5 councilmember said in a city council message board posting that the initiative "represents an effective addition to the valuable efforts that our homeless service partners and city staff are currently pursuing in our community." 

The HEAL Initiative resolution asks City Manager Spencer Cronk to implement and fund a Housing-Focused Homeless Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing-focused services and supports, "including social, health, behavioral health and substance use services as needed." 

The initiative would be developed and implemented through collaboration with the City of Austin's Homeless Strategy Office, Austin Public Health, the Housing and Planning Department, ECHO, Integral Care and the homeless service and provider community.

The purpose of the initiative, the resolution states, is to immediately house people in safe shelter, create a path to permanent housing and, over time, eliminate the need for unsheltered camping in Austin.

The resolution states that the city manager should complete the process for Phase I HEAL Priority Locations within six months of the effective date of the resolution. 

The four Phase I HEAL priority locations are:

  • South Central Austin, at a major intersection under a state highway overpass, on a traffic median that separates traffic flow with a raised curb adjacent to a pedestrian walkway
  • East Austin, on a sidewalk or public easement adjacent to or leading to a public library
  • along a major arterial through the Central Business District
  • northwest Austin, at an intersection adjacent to significant vehicular and pedestrian traffic

With the resolution passed, the city manager will have to figure out an implementation plan and how to clear the encampments without involving police or issuing citations. 

The resolution also states that the council directs the city manager to return to the council for action no later than the council meeting on Feb. 18, with an appropriate ordinance to amend City Code Section 9-4-11 (Camping and Obstruction in Certain Public Areas Prohibited ) to add the Phase I HEAL locations to the areas where camping is prohibited. 

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