November 29, 2021

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Austin Explores Ways To Improve Homeless Services

AUSTIN, TX — Austin is reexamining their homeless services offerings toward the goal of optimizing investments, resources and funding to better serve the marginalized segment, officials said on Thursday.

To that end, the city contracted Barbara Poppe and Associates to analyze municipal practices and investments in homeless services and make recommendations for strategic deployment of those investments as well as future resources and funding opportunities, city officials explained. The group’s report: Investing for Results: Priorities and Recommendations for a Systems Approach to End Homelessness was released Thursday as the culmination of collaboration and analysis by the consulting team, city staff, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) and authorities from the city’s network of homelessness and housing-focused organizations, according to an advisory.

“Safe and stable housing is the foundation we all need to do well physically, emotionally, socially, and financially,” city officials wrote in explaining the study’s need. “Like other major cities, rents and mortgages in Austin have increased more rapidly than wages, placing that foundation on shaky ground for many of us. This makes it harder to weather the life storms we experience, like a serious illness, job loss, death of a family member, divorce or domestic abuse, and is contributing to an increase in homelessness in our region.”

The main focus of the report offers recommendations and strategies to help ensure that public and private investments into programs and initiatives to address homelessness in Austin have the maximum impact, officials said.

But city officials offered a caveat: “The report does not — and was never intended to — replace the Austin Action Plan to End Homelessness developed by ECHO and endorsed by city council, officials stressed. “Instead, it provides recommendations for strategies that will support the effective implementation of that plan and can guide refinements to that plan as needed.”

Development of the report entailed deep analysis of current city practices, including:

  • Review of each contract administered by the City of Austin to address homelessness.

  • Stakeholder input with a wide range of involved stakeholders and partners, including people with lived experience, and one intensive community visit performed before COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

  • Quantitative analysis of system-level and program-level data from Austin’s homelessness response system.

  • Coordination with other expert consultants and further input discussions of findings and recommendations with city officials and other stakeholders.

As part of an ongoing collaboration, homelessness experts across the city created Austin’s Public-Private Partnership Task Force to End Homelessness (P3 Homelessness Task Force), which includes a team of dedicated individuals and organizations focused on reviewing and implementing recommendations in the Report and continue Austin’s goal of ending homelessness in our community. Partners with the City and ECHO in this effort currently include: Caritas of Austin; Downtown Austin Alliance; Front Steps; Integral Care; LifeWorks; and the Salvation Army.

“Strengthening the health of our growing city and supporting individuals living with homelessness requires teamwork and continuous innovation,” Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Deputy City Manager and Co-Chair of the P3 Task Force, said in a prepared statement. “I’m excited that service providers, nonprofits, and city staff — those who are already making a positive impact on our homeless population — are coming together as a strong coalition to work collectively in a new way.”

Added Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter: “The group is working diligently to leverage public and private investments to address homelessness in Austin, helping our neighbors in crisis. When all Austinites have tools like a home to regain health and stability, physical and mental health care, and job opportunities to reach our full potential, our city is stronger, and everyone thrives.”

City officials said the P3 Homelessness Task Force will be especially focused on the recommendations for expanding capacity within our community’s crisis response and housing resources, including prevention and diversion, emergency shelter, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing.

Matt Mollica, ECHO’s Executive Director, and P3 co-chair, lauded the effort’s aim in yielding safe and stable environment’s for the city’s homeless population: “This analysis is a critical step in ensuring that our homeless services system is equitable and responsive to the needs of our community experiencing homelessness, especially those living unsheltered in our city. Austin is full of dedicated advocates working toward providing safe, stable living situations for everyone, and that collaboration is what will make ending homelessness for all Austinites possible. This report provides critical strategy recommendations on both the investments and coordination needed to create a more just and healthy Austin for all.”

The formation of the group emphasizes a systems approach so that the community of providers will be able to more efficiently implement effective approaches to reducing entries into homelessness, and strengthen the homelessness assistance system, especially through system-wide diversion and collaborative problem-solving, city officials explained. Progress happens when partners from different specialties come together for the health of our community, officials added.

The memo that went to the Austin City Council can be found here with the Barbara Poppe and Associates Report attached. The consultant team will present the report at the Aug. 4 council work session.

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch

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