The city of Austin, Texas, now has The Homeless Encampment Management (HEM) team and a new digital, data-driven encampment tracking tool to streamline and bring greater consistency to how it handles homeless encampments in public spaces. The city budgeted nearly $5 million in 2023 to clean up encampments.
The tracking tool is equipped with geospatial visualization capabilities to provide a better understanding of the conditions, risks, needs, and trends at homeless encampments across the city. The tool aids staff in scoring each encampment and identifying those posing the highest health and safety risks. This will help in prioritizing them for cleanup and support services.
The tool will also be used to select sites for the HEAL (Housing-focused Encampment Assistance Link) Initiative – which provides encampment occupants with direct access to shelter and longer-term housing resources.
“The launch of a formalized cross-departmental Homeless Encampment Management Team and prioritization tool will help the City of Austin ensure that its resources are efficiently and equitably deployed. At the same time, the structure will enhance our ability to track conditions in encampments, as well as related public space management activities,” said Dianna Grey Homeless Strategy Officer.
Using the HEM tool is expected to bring about a drop in the number of unhoused individuals and a reduction of health and safety risks in the remaining encampments. Safety risks include: illness and death due to weather exposure; becoming victims of crime; and safety along high-traffic corridors.
Chrisola Webb, City of Austin Homeless Strategy Division spokesperson, stated that the project will be “ongoing effort that will take some time, as will the development of full protocols, communication workflow and additional staff training resources.”