Addressing Homelessness
in 2021 

Within the Strategic Direction 2023 Economic Opportunity and Affordability Outcome, the Austin City Council set, as it’s top priority, a goal to make homelessness in Austin rare, brief, and non-recurring.
The City’s new Homeless Strategy Officer joined the organization in January 2021 and began leading the Homeless Strategy Division within Austin Public Health. This year, the team strengthened its collaborative leadership of the community-wide homelessness response system through strategic oversight, continuous improvement, addressing equity, and introducing proven housing and social service interventions.
On any given night, 3,160 Austinites experience homelessness, with 2,238 living unsheltered or sleeping in places not meant for human habitation. In lieu of an in-person count, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) used the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and other data to estimate homelessness this year. 

A Challenging Year

Austinites experiencing homelessness face tremendous obstacles in taking care of their most basic needs every day. Throughout this year, the pandemic’s persistence and required enforcement of the public camping ban have compounded the obstacles that people experiencing homelessness have faced.
The City and its partners successfully moved more than 1,200 people into housing and out of homelessness in 2021. The number of people housed is trending down, as compared to recent (pre-COVID-19 years) averages. Austin’s tight housing market has impacted the availability of affordable housing and rentals for rapid rehousing programs. Accessing and staying connected with individuals who are transient by nature has also been more difficult due to the pandemic and public health restrictions.
Despite these challenges, 2021 has been filled tremendous progress and concrete actions for ending homelessness in our community.

Reaching the Summit

In March and April, a diverse group of local government, and business leaders joined with individuals with lived experience, social justice advocates, social service providers and other community members for focused conversations on ending homelessness.

Called The Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness in Austin, the conversations resulted in a detailed three-year implementation plan and an ambitious community-wide goal of housing an additional 3,000 individuals by 2024.

Summit leadership called for raising nearly $300 million to fund the comprehensive $515 million plan to make transformational and sustainable change.  
Austin City Council approved a plan in June to spend $106.7 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars toward the plan. Travis County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to allocate $110 million in ARPA funds to build new housing units.  These partnerships have generated tremendous momentum and fundraising is now well underway to secure the final $120 million needed to fully fund the plan.
The community-wide Summit plan will improve strategic outcomes and expand capacity for reaching, serving, and rehousing Austinites. It will also address the significant gaps that exist within the homeless response system, including data a shortage of social service workers and qualified social service agencies across the central Texas marketplace. The Summit investment plan includes nearly $8.5 million to helping agencies expand capacity and scale programs while improving performance and reducing inequities. 

COVID-19 Response

City and partner service providers worked to contain the spread of COVID-19 through hygiene stations, delivery of shelf stable and prepared meals and operation of Protective Lodges (Pro-Lodges). 
The City operated five ProLodges since March 2020 and demobilized last facility in October.  Since March 2020, the City and partners successfully rehoused 280 highest need and medically fragile individuals based from the ProLodges. Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC) has been central to this progress and will continue their efforts through 2022, with the goal of housing an additional 100 people with significant medical needs. 
Launched as a COVID intervention to keep people experiencing homelessness safe, the Eating Apart Together Initiative wrapped up in September.  This year EAT served 362,681 prepared and shelf stable meals and provided water, masks, and other needed personal items for people in need across our community.  
In addition to its role in pandemic response, EAT’s infrastructure was central to the City’s Winter Storm Uri response by delivering shelf-stable food and water to cold weather shelters, Integral Care facilities, Esperanza Community and other locations. In partnership with Good Work Austin, a small business advocacy and support organization, EAT leveraged relationships with community partners and local restaurants to coordinate logistics and meet critical needs for sustenance throughout Winter Storm Uri.   

Housing Austinites Living Unsheltered

 Approved by the City Council in February 2021, HEAL is an encampment-based intervention that offers immediate access to non-congregate shelter, as well as rental assistance and case management to help individuals transition to and maintain permanent housing. 

The Homeless Strategy Division, in coordination with other City departments and community partners, launched the first phase of HEAL and moved 150 individuals from four large encampments into two new non-congregate shelters. Totaling 140 guest rooms, the Northbridge and Southbridge shelters opened in the summer of 2021. The facilities are both former hotels; Southbridge is expected to continue to serve as bridge shelter into the future, and Northbridge will eventually be converted into permanent supportive housing. 

To support future HEAL Initiative activities, the Homeless Strategy Division developed a mobile assessment tool that integrates health, safety, and environmental data across multiple City departments to prioritize encampments for future compassionate closure. The City’s Office of Performance Management is now working across City departments to develop a common set of processes, procedures, and tools for encampment response.  

HUD Features Austin’s Commitment to Ending Homelessness 

The City of Austin captured the national spotlight for its effort to end homelessness by investing American Rescue Plan Act funds in long-term housing solutions. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) invited Austin to join its House America initiative which features communities that are leveraging ARPA funds to strategically address homelessness. In September, Mayor Adler joined other city, county, state, and tribal nation leaders from across the nation to kick off the two-year challenge to track and celebrate how federal resources are being used to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness. The national project aims to rehouse at least 100,000 households and add at least 20,000 new affordable housing units nationally by September 30, 2022.

Long Term Solutions: Increasing Housing Units 

In 2021, the City made significant strides in increasing the pipeline of new deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing units, which are critical to our goals for ending homelessness in Austin.  
  • The City’s Housing Finance Corporation invested a total of $8.5 million in Caritas of Austin’s Espero at Rutland project. Caritas broke ground in September on the development which will add 171 deeply affordable units, 101 of which will be reserved for people exiting homelessness. Once opened, the City’s partnership with Caritas of Austin will fund rental assistance and critical wrap around services for residents.
  • The City Council voted to waive $4.3 million in development fees for Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ expansion of Community First! Village, its highly successful master-planned community. The Village is home to 220 formerly homeless people. The expansion will add 1400 new micro-homes on a site  adjacent to their current location and a new location in southeast Austin. 
  • The City support is helping Foundation Communities make several affordable housing projects a reality. These include Laurel Creek which will welcome 88 low-income families, including 18 who are exiting homelessness, and Zilker Studios, where 25 of 100 rental units for low-income single adults will be set aside for the formerly homeless.  Balcones Terrace, now under development, will provide 120 units of deeply affordable units in Northwest Austin, including 60 units of permanent supportive housing.  
  • The City purchased three former hotel properties for conversion to a total of approximately 200 units of permanent supportive housing (PSH) for people exiting homelessness. These include properties on Burnet Road in north Austin, Pecan Park Boulevard in northwest Austin, and North Interstate 35 in north central Austin. Renovation is expected to begin on the first two hotels in spring of 2022; the 7400 North Interstate 35 property is temporarily operating as a bridge shelter, with conversion to PSH expected to begin in 2023. The new permanent supportive housing projects will be operated by community nonprofits contracted to provide on-site management and robust services.

Downtown Austin Community Court

The Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC) relocated to a new temporary location at One Texas Center forming a comprehensive service center for court business, case management and walk- in services.
DACC has served people on the front lines throughout the pandemic by expanding its team of case managers who are an essential link for people experiencing homelessness. In 2021, DACC completed 16,000 requests for services through its walk-in service center. To ensure health and safety, DACC case managers adapted to a mobile service model by connecting with clients virtually and physically at locations across the community.
Through the enforcement of the public camping ban, DACC provides people experiencing homelessness with alternative ways to adjudicate their cases, while connecting them with sorely needed services, like obtaining identification documentation and signing up for public benefits and social services for which they qualify.
This year, DACC began administering the Violet KeepSafe program which provides large, lockable purple bins to people experiencing homelessness so they can store their personal belongings. DACC’s role in the program now links more people living unsheltered to services that help address their additional needs. Demand for the KeepSafe bins is at an all-time high. The team of two has grown to five members with lived homelessness experience employed by Austin Resource Recovery and hours of operation expanded from five days per week to seven days a week.

Homeless Outreach Street Team

In 2021, Integral Care invested in expanding the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), which will soon have additional mental health clinicians. The City’s ARPA funding will support additional expansion of the current team and exploration of other successful site-based outreach teams and interventions.  

An interdisciplinary team from the Austin Police Department, Austin-Travis County EMS, Downtown Austin Community Court, and Integral Care, the HOST team continued to play a key role in serving the most pressing needs of people experiencing homelessness in the greater downtown area. Between January 2021 and October 2021, the team served 899 individuals, 33% were connected to services necessary to begin their journey to stability and recovery. HOST also facilitated 62 jail diversions by providing a more tailored approach to best support the community member in their time of need, saving Austin taxpayers $350 per day. In addition, HOST participated in 217 mental health interventions and linked 691 individuals experiencing homelessness to medical services.