More than two years after Austin-area elected officials and community leaders convened to chart a new course for local homeless strategy, their $515 million plan to house thousands of people is set to readjust next year with an aim of eventually meeting its sweeping goals.

The big picture

The community collaborative Finding Home ATX was formed in 2021 following a community summit centered on reducing unsheltered homelessness in Austin and Travis County.

At a high level, Finding Home called on local governments, nonprofits, philanthropists and others to identify a total of $515 million that'd be used to house 3,000 additional people and create more than 1,000 new permanent supportive housing units over a three-year period.

About two-thirds through Finding Home's initial timeline, the initiative faces a multimillion-dollar gap toward its overall funding goal while housing targets are unlikely to be met by the end of 2024. Stakeholders are expected to recalibrate aspects of the plan next year.

Despite likely falling short of the strategy's original progress markers, Finding Home Chair Lynn Meredith said the initiative has helped spur positive shifts in Austin's homeless service community and laid the groundwork for significant housing and homeless strategy investments.

"From where we started, there’s been a lot of change. The fruits, it might take a little bit longer for some of these to come to fruition, but directionally we’re making progress," Meredith told Community Impact in the fall. "I think it will be reflected more in our numbers more at the end of '24, ‘25 and ‘26. But we didn’t have the option of not doing anything or not doing anything differently.”

The details

The Finding Home collaborative has included representatives with Austin, Travis County, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and several other local nonprofits and community groups. Meredith said stakeholders continue to meet on a biweekly basis to discuss the initiative's progress and outlook.

The city, county and state have been the largest financial contributors to the effort with hundreds of millions of dollars reserved for Finding Home so far, including around $100 million in federal pandemic relief funding from Austin and a similar investment by Travis County. Those funds and tens of millions more from other sources are going toward various services and housing projects.

Following a push in the past few years to add more permanent supportive housing in Central Texas, Austin's shift this year to focusing more on short-term shelter capacity has changed things for Finding Home as well.

"We were kind of having to wait until they went through their process and made decisions, which they’ve made about the [Austin Resource Center for the Homeless], they’ve made about the Marshalling Yard and Salvation Army [shelter]. So that kind of changed the model, putting more money in a couple of buckets that we weren’t tracking in the same way," Meredith said. "What we’re doing now ... is we’re trying to figure out how to rebalance the model, because the whole initiative is about building capacity in the system and funding the entire system."

Meredith said some key process updates stemming from Finding Home so far include:
  • Strengthened collaboration between Austin and Travis County representatives on homeless strategy
  • Local nonprofits expanding their work to more comprehensive approaches on homelessness, such as housing development
  • Improved data collection, both by ECHO and other smaller nonprofits in the community
"It’s terrific, because now we have data on who’s living there, why is this successful, what is going on?" she said.

By the numbers

Last fall, Finding Home members gathered to celebrate a milestone: reaching about 90% of the initiative's $515 million financial goal in less than two years. Since then, Meredith said about $5 million to $10 million more has been identified.

"I would say that fundraising definitely took a hit this year. We were not able to raise at the rate or the number that we had previously," she said.

Looking ahead, about $50 million more would be needed to meet Finding Home's original benchmark, and it remains to be seen how that might be collected.

On the housing front, officials had previously referenced a detailed spending plan outlining a path toward the community-wide 3,000-person housing goal and 1,300-unit construction goal. It doesn't appear those marks will be hit either, although Meredith is optimistic they can eventually be reached.

Data from ECHO doesn't show a significant increase in the number of people moved into shorter- and longer-term housing over recent years. About 30 additional move-ins were tracked between 2021 and 2022, while this year's activity is behind the pace of both previous years.
“The housing an additional 3,000 [people], I’m pretty sure we will not be able to do that by the end of ‘24, but I think we are making a serious effort, and there’s a whole 14 months to kind of figure that out," Meredith said. "There will be more urgency with everyone, I think, in ‘24."

However, permanent supportive housing development has been on the upswing, with hundreds of new beds added since 2021 and hundreds more now being planned or moving into construction.

More than 900 new supportive housing units are now moving through the development pipeline to supplement existing facilities across town, according to ECHO.

"Will we hit the 1,000 [units] by the end of ‘24? It’s not looking great, but directionally we’re going to get there," Meredith said. "We know that these were very ambitious goals, but if you don’t put it out there and try to reach really far you’re going to fall way off the counter."

What's next

Meredith said Finding Home collaborators plan to follow up on the 2021 summit with a review of where things stand in 2024.

“We’ve got to really take the pulse, and the first quarter of ‘24 is the time to do that. And again, we’re going to have to adjust things because we’ll really know what’s been working, what interventions are working, what individual organizations still need help," she said.

For now, she said staff are looking at metrics and investment strategies to get a handle on the initiative's trajectory and help inform its next steps. She said a revised Finding Home plan could be ready by the middle of the year.

As Austin has been one of Finding Home's top contributors, Mayor Kirk Watson said he'd like to see the city become more active in the process—and take a closer look at all spending through the initiative.

"I’ve been disappointed that it almost feels as though the city is an afterthought," Watson told Community Impact in October. "I have been a little surprised at the self-appointed nature of some of the folks that are involved and how that puts them in a position of being the sole authority, in some instances. That’s been a disappointment, and that’s one of the reasons I think it’s probably good for us to review how money gets spent and where it goes."

In December, the city reshuffled its homeless strategy staff into a stand-alone office and announced an assessment of regional homeless services and spending is getting underway.

Quote of note

“We must work with everyone in the community, whether we agree with them, we disagree with them, but what we are focusing on is finding solutions and helping people resolve their homelessness. How do we do the best job with that?" Meredith said. "I still remain positive about our community and their response. We are a very compassionate citizenry here, and I feel like we can count on everyone."