In a move to strengthen Austin's capacity to address homelessness, the city is creating a stand-alone Homeless Strategy Office that will report to the city manager’s office.
The city will spin off the existing Homeless Strategy Division overseen by Austin Public Health to create the office, according to a memo Interim City Manager Jesús Garza shared with the mayor and city council Monday and the city announced Tuesday.
Garza initiated a homeless strategy special assignment to focus on the programs, policies, and funding Austin uses to address homelessness in the city this summer. A significant finding of the assignment, the memo states, is that the city’s "current organizational structure does not effectively respond to this critical priority.":
“While the Homeless Strategy Division was embedded within one department, the initiatives to address homelessness span multiple departments and require focused coordination. Consequently, I am establishing a stand-alone Homeless Strategy Office (HSO) to serve as a focal point for addressing homelessness comprehensively, strategically, and compassionately.”
The primary responsibilities of the Homeless Strategy Office, according to the city's Tuesday announcement, will include:
- Procuring, managing, and monitoring homelessness-related contracts between the City and third-party vendors.
- Overseeing operations at City-run and City-owned homeless shelters.
- Collaborating with City agencies and community organizations in efforts to expand the availability of housing across the continuum of need, including emergency shelters, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing.
- Overseeing and approving plans for public space management, including outreach, clean-up, and compassionate encampment closures.
- Working with the Communications and Public Information Office to help manage communications regarding the City’s approach to assisting individuals with resolving their homelessness.
- Working with the Intergovernmental Relations Office to manage relationships between the City and local, state, and federal agencies and officials.
- Collaborating with Austin/Travis County's Homelessness Response System partners to uphold best practices, policies, and procedures for organizations that serve unhoused people in our community.
- Engaging with local businesses and philanthropic entities to broaden the funding base for homeless response services.
The office will also help facilitate an upcoming joint independent assessment homeless services provided by the city as well as program partners including Central Health, Integral Care, Travis County, and the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas in Austin.
David Gray will lead the office as the homeless strategy officer, a role he has held on an interim basis since September.
“As a city, our goal is to set the standard for innovative and strategic approaches to addressing homelessness and strengthening partnerships with the broad base of stakeholders who care about and invest in this issue,” said Gray. “Creating this stand-alone office and positioning it to marshal resources from many fronts is a strong indicator of the commitment and dedication of city leaders to helping people experiencing homelessness and to provide them with hope and help when they need it most.”
The reorganization will be effective December 4.