Dozens of people experiencing homelessness were moved from two Austin parks into bridge shelter through the city's encampment management program, Austin Public Health announced Nov. 1.

What happened

According to the city, 43 people have been relocated from encampments in Barwood Park near I-35 in North Central Austin and the Tom Donovan Nature Trail at Williamson Creek Greenbelt in South Austin. Those residents were moved into two of the city's bridge shelters and offered housing resources, while the former encampment sites are now being cleaned up and monitored.

The two processes took place through Austin's Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL, initiative that has now relocated more than 660 people from over a dozen encampments across the city since 2021. Of those, more than 200 have ended up moving into housing so far.

“Through HEAL, the city recognizes the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness and commits to providing them with shelter, support and resources, while ensuring their dignity and well-being are upheld every step of the way,” interim Homeless Strategy Officer David Gray said in a statement.

The approach

HEAL is just one piece of Austin's overall response to unsheltered homelessness recently headlined by investments in temporary shelter facilities, which remain in focus given a persistent shortage in available shelter beds for those in need. The HEAL process is also continuing as the latest review of the unhoused population found more and more people living farther from the city center and in parks or other green spaces.

Since HEAL started, about 85% of people living in encampments targeted by the initiative have accepted the city's offer of temporary accommodations.

HEAL costs Austin millions of dollars to continue each year. Since its establishment in 2021, the program—including encampment outreach, bridge shelter and rehousing expenses, and public space cleanup—has been budgeted at about:
  • $7.8 million in fiscal year 2020-21
  • $6.1 million in FY 2021-22
  • $11.5 million in FY 2022-23
  • $7.1 million in the current FY 2023-24