AUSTIN, Texas -- Local leaders in Austin gave an update to city council members at a Tuesday work session about the progress of some ongoing homelessness initiatives. From August 19 to October 29, 439 Austinites who were living on the streets were housed.

  • 439 people housed between August 19 and October 29
  • Lack of affordable housing remains an issue
  • Some people reluctant to stay in emergency shelters

“Ending Community Homelessness Coalitions’s role in that work is to convene the service provider community around establishing a system to end homelessness. Through that period of time, those 439 folks were housed using federal dollars, using city funds, using county funds, and using private philanthropic dollars and foundation dollars. So, it’s a collective effort through all those different types of funding streams,” said Matt Mollica, executive director for ECHO.

At the briefing, homeless strategy officer Lori Pampilo Harris said homeless encampments are a troubling reminder of the lack of affordable, permanent housing in the city. As city leaders work on a citywide encampment response strategy, the Guided Path Pilot Project is first focusing on providing help to those outside of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. 

So far, in the first three weeks of the pilot initiative, city staff surveyed every person outside of the downtown shelter during a two-day period and referred them to available housing resources, case management, and substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Results of the Guided Path Pilot Project As Of October 28: 

  • 99 people identified
  • 13 people were already staying in shelter
  • 4 people were housed
  • 2 people reunited with family
  • 75 people were enrolled or pending enrollment at a program that leads to permanent housing 
  • 24 people were not matched with programs 

As part of the initial assessment of the pilot, Harris said there would need to be 20 new slots for permanent supportive housing. This model combines low-barrier housing with ongoing services that help people lead more stable lives. Harris said this represents a citywide need. 

“Until we have that permanent supportive housing, they are going to still be on our streets, and so for me, I'm convinced that the tipping point for our community is our investment and priority to make permanent supportive housing,” she said.

“Housing first and harm reduction means that we’ll move you into the unit and work with you regardless of your mental health condition, your physical health condition, or your behavioral health condition, and we’re committed to you as an individual on a path to wellness that’s self-determined and self-driven,” Mollica said.

Harris said that anecdotally, from conversations with people on the streets outside of the ARCH, she noticed that every individual expressed wanting to have housing, but some were reluctant to stay at an emergency shelter.

“There are successful strategies to addressing the unsheltered population that are resistant to stay in emergency or crisis shelter. That is with really intensive relationship building and trust building between the outreach and navigators there within our housing crisis system, and having them go out on a regular basis to those individuals and again build those relationships, build that credibility so that we can build a housing plan for them, while they’re on the streets,” Harris said.

The homeless strategy officer also told council members that any successful plan must include immediate appropriate housing options. City staff is exploring the possibility of converting motels to affordable housing options. Harris said that conversion would be much faster if the city was able to acquire properties that have already been built, and then next steps would be property management and case management services. 

“In my opinion, with the sense of urgency we have around this issue, is that there’s no solution off the table. That’s one of many things that we’re looking at exploring in terms of how do we create a low-barrier affordable housing pipeline,” Harris said.