The first homeless encampment clearing through Austin's Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL, program is underway, and around 20 people experiencing homelessness have been relocated to a former South Austin hotel for shelter, the city announced June 17.

The first phase of the HEAL initiative, authorized by City Council in early February, will see city staff work to remove four "high-priority" homeless encampments throughout the city and connect their residents with temporary shelter and housing resources. Following months of planning and outreach, the clearing process began this week as residents of an encampment near the Terrazas Branch Library on East Cesar Chavez Street moved to the city's Southbridge shelter, a former Rodeway Inn at 2711 I-35 that most recently served as a COVID-19 Protection Lodge. The facility will now operate as a designated HEAL shelter with room for dozens of homeless individuals, where they will be connected with rapid rehousing case workers.

“We’ve made an important step this week toward demonstrating how concrete connection to housing can reduce the challenge of unsheltered homelessness and unauthorized encampments in Austin,” Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said in a statement. “Southbridge will allow 75 people to get off the streets immediately—but the longer-term housing resources provided to guests are what will truly reduce homelessness in Austin. We are pleased to offer the shelter, support and rapid rehousing that people need to begin their journey back to stability and permanent housing.”

As residents of the East Cesar Chavez encampment move out, the city is working to shut down the camp next to the public library. Work crews will continue to clean the area this week, and fencing will be installed to officially close down the site, the city said.

Prior to this week, the city had not pinpointed specific campsites being targeted through its HEAL initiative. Council's February resolution authorizing the program identified the four priority locations only as: a South Central Austin camp located under a highway overpass at a "major intersection," a Central Business District camp running along a "major arterial," a Northwest Austin camp at an intersection "adjacent to significant vehicular and pedestrian traffic," and an East Austin camp on a sidewalk near a public library.

The announcement of the HEAL initiative's progress comes days after Austin entered its second phase of enforcing Proposition B's camping ban. After a one-month phase geared toward education and outreach, phase two is centered on the delivery of written warnings and citations to individuals experiencing homelessness who are camping in public in violation of the law instated following the May 1 election. Austin police also began the week by clearing away and arresting some campers around City Hall, although officials have since said that clearance was tied to an impending construction project and trespassing issues tied to the "protest" tents on that property rather than Proposition B implementation.

The remainder of the HEAL initiative's first phase is expected to run through August, with continuing outreach at the three remaining priority camps to be followed by relocations to shelter and restoration of the public campsites.