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Committee reviews homelessness spending report

Thursday, October 28, 2021 by Jo Clifton

As previously reported, City Council issued 47 resolutions, ordinances and other directions related to assisting the city’s homeless population between September 2018 and May 2021. The result was a budget of $179 million for homelessness assistance between 2019 and the current year. Council members Mackenzie Kelly and Leslie Pool requested a special report (see below) on that spending, which the Council Audit & Finance Committee discussed at its Wednesday meeting.

One of the big takeaways from that report – don’t call it an audit – was that the city lacks a complete inventory of homelessness assistance agreements, but between Austin Public Health, Housing & Planning and the Downtown Austin Community Court, there are 101 such agreements. Those three departments manage the largest number of contracts, accounting for 93 percent of spending related to homelessness, according to the report.

Council Member Kathie Tovo told her colleagues it is important to remember that, even though there may be 101 agreements, that does not mean the city is working with 101 different agencies or nonprofits.

“I want to encourage members of the public to really look at the report,” she said. “Just looking at the numbers … doesn’t really get to the heart of how this funding is being invested in our community. And when it was published … I did get questions and comments from people and it seemed to be around the high number of resolutions, the high number of contracts.” (To see who has contracts, check the appendix of the report.)

For example, Integral Care has several different agreements with the city. One of those is for more than $10.6 million and is used to match federal and state contracts to focus on behavioral health services. A second contract with Integral Care, for more than $2.9 million, provides permanent supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness. Caritas of Austin, Salvation Army, Family Eldercare, Front Steps, and several other organizations working to help the homeless also have multiple contracts with Austin Public Health.

Dianna Grey, the city’s homeless strategy officer, told the committee her team is working with the contract management unit within Austin Public Health. She noted that APH does track its contracts through what’s called a reporting code, adding, “In order to get that citywide we need to have discussions with procurement about applying the code at the time the contracts are made and deals are created, but we think that the majority of the contracts are with APH.”

The other two departments managing the most contracts related to homelessness are the Downtown Austin Community Court and Housing & Planning. The court also uses partner grants with a trackable code, Grey said.

She added that, using the code, “I think we can get to 85 percent of contracts that we can generate reports from.” She said getting reports on a citywide basis and retroactively assigning a code for tracking would be a “longer process.” While Grey’s team is working on tracking new contracts going forward, she was not sure how long it might take or whether a code can be retroactively applied to older contracts.

The Austin Monitor asked Kelly and Pool whether they were satisfied with staff members’ answers about tracking all the contracts related to homelessness. Pool responded that she was satisfied. Kelly said via text, “The true test of my satisfaction related to staff’s answers will come over time to see if, in fact, any meaningful changes are made to how the city tracks its contracts on homeless spending.”

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Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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