CONTINUING TO TAKE IMMEDIATE
ACTION TO ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS IN AUSTIN
As Mayor and City Council members, we have been listening to the people
of Austin, our city staff, and the many stakeholders who work with
people experiencing homelessness in our community. We’re certain our
colleagues join us in committing to a continued community conversation on
homelessness leading to further Council action in September that would include,
but not be limited to, the kinds of ideas
described in this document. We post this onto the public Council Message Board
because the entire Council joined in setting homelessness as our City’s highest
priority and all of us will continue working together on this issue. This document is intended to present ideas for
action and we welcome discussion on these and other ideas.
- Proposed principles and goals
- Proposed community agreement and direction
- Our community needs multiple housing types
and services for individuals experiencing homelessness
know what works
programs, expansions, and increased housing capacity on the horizon
places from among which to increase restrictions on camping, sitting,
- Ordinance standards, interpretations, and applications
- Rules regarding camping where it occurs as we
build out more housing and services
- Rules for parks
- Non-policing tools to encourage
people to go to better and safer
Let’s find a
constructive way to move forward to end homelessness.
Mayor Adler, Council Member Tovo, Council Member
PRINCIPLES AND GOALS
- We are concerned with both people
experiencing homelessness and public places.
- We don’t want camping in public
- We want to help and treat well our
neighbors experiencing homelessness.
- Providing housing is the only real way
both to help people and to avoid camping.
- The more housing and beds we provide,
the more places where we can limit camping.
COMMUNITY AGREEMENT AND DIRECTION
To prevent camping,
sitting, and lying in certain locations, we need to provide better and safer
places for people experiencing homelessness to be. As we provide more housing
(w/services), we can more effectively and ethically list more places for people
to not camp, beyond the current restrictions. This is the agreement and
promise we make with ourselves,
the social compact we establish in our community. We should begin building that
list now at the same time we are taking immediate steps to build housing
June, the City Council did three things: one, we removed some of the camping
ban while leaving some restrictions in place; two, we asked the City Manager
and the community to consider more carefully tailored restrictions than those
that previously existed; and three, we took immediate steps to increase housing
unanimously approving Resolution No. 184 last June, the City Council asked the
City Manager to “propose reasonable time and place opportunities and
limitations on camping, sitting and lying.”
Prohibiting camping, sitting, and lying, without providing
people with a place to go, is a failed strategy. Moving people experiencing homelessness away from
one public place only moves them to another public place. Ticketing or arresting people, or threatening
to do so, merely for being homeless and having no good option for where else to
go, is inhumane and counterproductive.
Nor is camping a solution to homelessness. We do not want any of our neighbors,
especially our most vulnerable, to have to live with the public safety and
health risks of life on the streets.
We can and must do better for those experiencing
homelessness, for our public spaces, and for our community as a whole.
The “Action Plan to End Homelessness,” developed by housing
providers with ECHO and endorsed by the City Council in 2018, identifies the
models and programs that are working here locally that we must scale to
city-wide levels if we want to end homelessness in our city. Over the last
several years, the City Council has supported achieving effective zero veteran homelessness,
the Homelessness Outreach Street Team, a redesign to a housing-focused model at
the ARCH, and other initiatives, and has allocated more money to housing and
social service providers working to end homelessness. The City’s new full-time
Homeless Strategy Officer (an
executive level position) will start the first week of September. It is intended that also in September, the
City Council will vote on action items related to homelessness as well as a
city budget that includes multiple investments in housing and services.
We want community input. Ending homelessness in Austin will
require partnerships among local governments, non-profit housing and service providers,
faith communities, philanthropists, neighborhoods, and others. Austin is
fortunate to have so many in the community who are doing great work to address
and prevent homelessness, and they need our support and the resources to
sustain and expand their operations.
None of us can do this alone; we must work together. We can do it and we must.
OUR COMMUNITY NEEDS MULTIPLE HOUSING TYPES FOR INDIVIDUALS
The types of housing we need to provide include but are not
limited to the following.
- Rapid Re-Housing, helping someone
quickly secure housing often with a voucher or rent support, is sometimes the
best answer for an individual or family who needs a home but not frequent or
extensive mental or physical health or social services. Many people
experiencing homelessness are the victims of the “perfect storm” and have
suddenly lost their partner, their job, their family, and their home and find
themselves on the streets. If they can quickly receive help to secure housing,
many will be able to return to self-sufficiency within a few months to a year.
- Permanent Supportive Housing, long-term housing coupled with supportive services is often
the ultimate answer to effectively end homelessness for many people. This requires significant capital
expenditures as well as the cost for services.
- Shelters provide different types of immediate and emergency housing
and provide a safer and healthier place for people to be while obtaining other
support they might need (e.g., medical, mental health, substance use resources,
job, etc.) to obtain permanent housing and to help stabilize their lives.
living in shelters should have a housing-exit strategy or a plan to get into
permanent supportive housing.
- People should be moved through, not moved to
are designed and operated specifically to avoid neighborhood disruption as they
are located throughout the city and use practices such as:
on number of beds
on drop-in services
on providing services for people not living at the location
admitted by referral only
on camping, sitting, and lying outside
public safety and public health attention
Mayor and Council on-site visits with neighbors
- Day Services Centers offer drop-in
do not stay long at such a facility, only during the day.
are assessed, their needs identified, and they are then connected to financial
aid; social, mental and physical health services; housing referrals; and other services
such as showers, bathrooms, and storage.
We know what works
Austin has organizations
and programs achieving great results. All of these initiatives and
organizations, and others, could reach more people and achieve greater results
with more resources and support to reach more people, establish additional
locations, and provide more homes. Among our successes:
- Effectively Ended Veteran Homelessness. Austin is one of a limited number of
cities that has been able to achieve “effective zero” veteran homelessness
(meaning we can provide permanent housing for vets within 60 days and services
- Community partners like the Austin
Apartment Association, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO),
Salvation Army, Caritas, Community First, and others focused on finding and
providing housing, and this was key.
- Innovative solutions, such as the philanthropist
and business created and funded “risk fund” to mitigate the perception of
financial risk for participating landlords have proven very important.
- Community partners and local
governments funded rental vouchers and assistance to help increase the number
of available homes.
- Cut Youth Homelessness in Half. We’ve cut in half the number of
children and youth living on our streets in a LifeWorks initiative using targeted
federal funding for homes and services. The goal is to house the other children
and youth this next year.
- Kept People Housed. Caritas uses individualized
interventions and reports that 97% of individuals enrolled in its permanent
supportive housing program remained stable one year after placement.
- Created Community. Community First Village has been
able to provide more than 200 people with housing and community.
There are new programs, expansions and housing capacity on the horizon
There is new
capacity about to open and more in the planning stages. These efforts need
additional support. The following are some of the initiatives creating new housing
- The Salvation Army’s new Rathgeber
Family Center will provide more than 200 shelter beds and transitional housing
for families with children and will create increased shelter capacity of more
than 50 beds for individuals Downtown. The City and the Downtown Austin
Alliance are contributing to this effort. The Salvation Army is continuing to
fundraise and needs additional money to operate the Rathgeber Family Center at
- Caritas, Salvation Army, Community
First, Foundation Communities and others have announced plans to add hundreds
of new beds, permanent homes and capacity, but need further community support.
- An innovative “Pay for Success”
program is about to begin a 5-year effort to sustain housing for up to 250
individuals who are among the most frequent users of our emergency medical
services, emergency rooms, jails, and who have the greatest interaction with
law enforcement. (This is a collaboration between Travis County and the City of
Austin, Central Health, Community Care Collaborative, Episcopal Health
Foundation, Ascension-Seton, St. David’s Foundation and Seton Health Care).
- The City has begun moving toward establishing
shelters and permanent supportive housing in all ten council districts in a
manner that avoids neighborhood disruption.
- Terrace at Oak Springs, a 50-unit
Housing First project, will open soon, serving individuals who have experienced
chronic homelessness and who have one or more barriers to maintaining housing,
such as a mental health diagnosis and/or chronic alcohol or substance use. This
project is a collaboration of the City of Austin, Austin-Travis County Integral
Care, and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.
- The 2018 Affordable Housing Bond
passed by the voters has begun to create many permanent supportive housing
units throughout the city.
- The City Manager’s proposed budget for
next year contains historic levels of financial support for housing for those
continue to learn from successful models in other cities and to pursue
additional opportunities to house and serve individuals experiencing
homelessness through options such as the following:
- Purchase of hotels or apartment
buildings to be converted to this use
- Apartment buildings willing to accept
- Boarding houses, tiny, and/or modular
- Places for respite and recuperative
care for medically fragile patients
- Expanded housing options for those
with mental health issues and substance use disorders
- Opportunities to ensure housing for individuals
- Housing that accommodates pets,
partners, and possessions
PLACES FROM AMONG WHICH TO INCREASE RESTRICTIONS ON CAMPING, SITTING, AND LYING
As we provide
more housing, we should now begin creating a list of public spaces where
camping, sitting, and lying may possibly not be allowed now and in the future.
These spaces could include the areas listed below.
- This is the agreement and promise we make with
ourselves, the social compact we establish in our community.
should not tell people they can’t be in certain public places if we’re not able
to tell them where, alternatively, there’s a viable place for them to be.
camping, sitting, and lying in certain public places will merely serve to move
those individuals to other public places if there are not better places for
them to be.
should immediately consider placing restrictions from among areas such as those
set out below because they are not the most safe, humane, or best places for
people to be, or because they pose public safety risks or public health hazards.
Over time, as more housing is provided
for more people, the restricted areas within such categories would be able to
grow in number and size.
- Vehicular traffic
to roadways or medians
to or on transit, bus or rail facilities
- Sidewalks, paths, and trails
safe, unobstructed passage for people and wheelchairs, bikes, strollers, etc.
- Schools/child care facilities
- Creeks, rivers, floodplain, flood ways, high fire
- Areas with high pedestrian activity
naming some streets (e.g. Congress Avenue, Second Street, Sixth Street, South
Congress, or the Drag, etc.)
to buildings, residences, or businesses
- Shelters, bridge homes, navigation centers
- Camping is currently prohibited in the
following areas. As we know, enforcement
is difficult. Arresting and ticketing doesn’t work and is counterproductive. In
significant part, however, enforcement is hampered by our failure to provide
alternate better and safer places for people to be. The best and most direct way to provide for
effective enforcement of ordinances concerning the following areas is for us to
provide more housing.
- Ceremonial Buildings (Governor Mansion, City Hall, Capitol)
- Other city facilities with a curfew
- Camping in ways that present a public
- Camping in ways that present a public
- Camping in a place that does not allow
for reasonable use of public property
- Areas restricted from camping in such
categories should be based on appropriate, objective standards.
- Such standards could relate to
criteria like proximity, traffic volume, vehicular speed, a safety or health
standard, appropriate passageway width, pedestrian count, or other standards.
standard can adjust over time as more housing is provided.
- Neighborhood Efforts
- In addition to the continuing efforts of all the
partners to address homelessness citywide, including areas with the highest
concentration of individuals experiencing homelessness, like Downtown, we
should consider adopting a practice that allows a neighborhood or an
organization to ask the City to restrict camping in a certain place if the
neighborhood or organization assists the City or service provider to provide
those camping there with a better, safer, and more desirable place somewhere
else in that area.
STANDARDS, INTERPRETATIONS, APPLICATIONS
enforcement and clarification of the existing and future ordinances may be
necessary to achieve appropriate enforcement. The Council should consider better defining:
- safety risk, health hazard, and
blocking/impeding of public property
- indicia of terms such as “aggressive confrontation”
- the proof necessary to establish a violation
REGARDING CAMPING WHERE IT OCCURS AS WE BUILD OUT MORE HOUSING AND SERVICES.
increase housing and services, we should consider rules for camping that could
include limitations on size of tents/structures and the volume of belongings;
providing tools (such as purple bags) for and required participation in ensuring
cleanliness of grounds and avoidance of litter; appropriate places to provide
showers and water, personal storage
lockers; and processes to ensure people can keep their belongings secure.
RULES FOR PARKS
parks rules that prohibit camping and post clear information for the public
- Expand works
program for people experiencing homelessness to work on parks clean-ups
parks maintenance funding with targeted focus on areas with high concentrations
of people experiencing homelessness
- Increase the
number of park waste receptacles and the availability of purple bags for individuals
NON-POLICING TOOLS TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO GO TO BETTER
AND SAFER PLACES
- Incentives for individuals to choose
better and safer places
- Facilities (bathrooms, showers,
laundry, storage lockers)
- Safe, clean, well maintained
- Some allowing anyone in need to access
(low barrier, pursuing housing first policies)
- Provide spaces for pets, couples, small
aligned groups from the streets or camps
- Economic support and a pathway to
- Non-Public Safety Officers, in some
situations and with some people, may be seen as less official and less
threatening facilitators helping individuals move to better, safer places
- Lay workers triaging and facilitating
the movement of people
- HOST team members (other than APD), DAA
Ambassadors, Community Health Paramedics (EMS), Community First Ambassadors (people
who have previously experienced homelessness)
- Social workers, Mental Health workers
riding with public safety officers
- Helping people needing assistance to get
- Shelter/bridge home/navigation center