Mayor Adler’s State of the City Address Part 8: Reducing Homelessness

After years of studies and resolutions, the Council is poised to do something real about displacement in the eastern crescent. The City Auditor gathered all those reports and ideas, and turned them over to a newly created, Council-appointed Anti-Displacement Task Force.

Our city is eager for this task force to do its work so that those ideas, together with new ones now arising from the community, have a place for them all to go together – to be assessed, compared, analyzed and discussed, so that the best of all the ideas can rise to the top and be reported back for Council consideration and implementation.

The Task Force will review and inform their recommendations with a parallel study conducted by UT Austin, initiated by CM Pool, that maps the vulnerability of displacement for all Austinites, and also offers specific tools that correlate to susceptibility of displacement.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past any more than we can afford the cost that the status quo is imposing on our community. Our job is to prevent an unacceptable future.

After years of unimplemented ideas, we need to do something to address displacement. We need the Anti-Displacement Task Force and the UT study to reflect the urgent certainty that their ideas will be taken up by the Council following their deliberative process.

This Council has shown a special willingness to try new things and to put new resources behind the mission of housing the homeless.

I thank Mayor Pro Tem Tovo for all the work she has done over many years to address this challenge. We are all excited about the new innovations you have championed like the inter-disciplinary HOST teams that this Council acted to expand this year, and the “Pay For Success” model around which this Council has begun to rally support.

This city had a successful federal pilot program in helping homeless youth. And we’ve got an in-house innovation team working on a $1.5-million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop smarter ways to help our most vulnerable neighbors. Alan Graham and many in our community are launching the expansion of the very successful Community First model.

This Council, city staff, public safety officers, and community stakeholders has acted to address the downtown drug crisis, and with Council Member Troxclair’s leadership is creating a pilot temporary work program for those experiencing homelessness. We are on track to meet our goal of 400 new Permanent Supportive Housing Units by the end of this year.

But for all we’ve done, there is no doubt that we need to do more to help those experiencing homelessness. We need to set a specific goal, and then we need to fund it.

Let’s make the “ECHO Plan goal” the City’s goal. We should commit to housing the homeless. Not more homeless. Not most of the homeless. Our goal should be finding Homes for all the Homeless, as we find them.

We know how to do it. We are among the cities that have achieved effective zero in homeless veterans. Soon, our City staff will be coming to Council, armed with our Audit Reports and the ECHO Plan, so that the Council can focus holistic policy direction.

Bottom line, we all know we’re going to need to find even more money if we’re serious about addressing the homelessness challenge. We are going to have to find all the new revenue streams possible. That’s why the concept of the Downtown Puzzle is so attractive to me.

Your Council has asked the University of Texas to study the possible expansion of the convention center and report back in the Fall. There are questions to be answered. And if, that study comes back with favorable answers, then we should move forward to capture the associated $10 million per year in tourist dollars that may well be available to invest in re-scoping the ARCH downtown and helping Austin to meet its homelessness challenge at scale city-wide.