Interim City Manager Announces Standalone Homeless Strategy Office
It will manage nonprofit contracts, clearing out camps
By Austin Sanders,
1:38PM, Wed. Nov. 22, 2023
Jesús Garza continues to use his time while temporarily occupying the city manager’s office to make big, perhaps lasting, changes to city government – this time, to the city department tasked with delivering and overseeing provision of services to people experiencing homelessness.
In a Nov. 20 memo, Garza announced the creation of a standalone Homeless Strategy Office, to be helmed by one of his interim appointees – another in a growing list of temporary staff hires made by Garza that have become permanent – David Gray. Shortly after Garza was awarded the interim city manager job, he gave Gray a “special assignment” to review the city’s response to homelessness. The reorganization will take effect, Dec. 4.
The HSO was established in 2019 shortly after Council voted to ease restrictions on public camping and panhandling, but it was nestled underneath Austin Public Health, where prior leaders of the office struggled to influence citywide strategy on homelessness. But now Gray will report directly to Assistant City Manager Stephanie Hayden-Howard, herself a former APH director. A city press release announcing the news says the office will “serve as a focal point for addressing homelessness comprehensively, strategically, and compassionately.”
The new, standalone HSO’s portfolio of responsibilities will include the procurement and management of city-funded contracts with organizations that provide services to unhoused individuals, overseeing operations at shelters run or owned by the city, and overseeing and approving plans around “compassionate encampment closures” – which is government euphemism for clearing out homeless camps throughout the city.
Spinning off HSO into a standalone office is one of the recommendations in a systemwide analysis of the policies, programs, and contracts that constitute the city’s response to ending homelessness. Garza initiated the review in June and is expecting to present the final report at the Council’s Dec. 13 Public Health Committee meeting.