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APH launches three phases of solicitations to increase homeless services

Thursday, February 17, 2022 by Willow Higgins

Austin Public Health is seeking partners in social services to help provide for the city’s unhoused community. This winter and spring, APH’s Health Equity and Community Engagement Division is working with the Homeless Strategy Division to release three phases of solicitations, all designed to increase the city’s capacity to address Austin’s homelessness crisis.

The three phases of the social services solicitations are sequential, the first of which has already been made available to the public. Phase 1, which was released Jan. 31, focuses on housing stabilization needs; the second, which will be released in April, seeks partners to focus on crisis response; the third and final phase, which is scheduled to be released in May, is designed to reduce the number of Austinites who need to lean on homeless services. The partnerships will be paid by the city’s General Fund, American Rescue Plan funds, the federal Emergency Solution Grant and the state Homeless Housing and Services Program. All contracts currently funded by social services will be re-solicited in these solicitations.

“The intent is that we can pull together a solicitation that produces agreements that will best meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community,” said APH’s Akeshia Johnson-Smothers, who presented the solicitation plan to the City Council Public Health Committee last week.

Phase 1 seeks applications from organizations that do work in rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and other services like landlord outreach and providing move-in supplies.

The crisis response phase, the next in the rollout, seeks applications to focus on managing resources like emergency shelters, bridge shelters and outreach services.

The last phase, called Reducing Inflow, focuses mostly on resources to end and prevent homelessness. The solicitation calls for applications that address prevention needs, mental health and addiction services, and employment services.

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison asked how the department plans to build capacity for homeless services.

“This week, the Homeless Strategy Division, in cooperation with ECHO, is hosting a series of listening sessions for our service providers within the community, and we’re organizing those around the type of services offered … getting their feedback about what the needs are,” said Dianna Grey, the city’s homeless strategy officer.

Grey added that the Innovation Office will also be working on creating small grants for organizations in order to be a “capacity-building accelerator.” 

“Those will be smaller sums totaling probably around $50,000 per organization,” Grey said. “The idea being, let’s do some work in the short term that identifies known immediate capacity-building needs that we could go ahead and fund, even if someone is not at that moment applying through the larger (request for proposal).”

Mayor Steve Adler, who sits on the committee, asked APH how this program might be able to empower larger organizations to train other groups to provide certain services to enable more service providers to take on tasks that are currently out of their reach.

“I want to make sure that the organizations that you’re entering into with contracts now have a contractual provision, or something, that says that they will help build capacity in other organizations as agreed,” Adler said. “I think that’s such an important component and we’ll only have the leverage to make that request as part of this solicitation.”

APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said she would need to speak with the legal department about the idea and discuss expectations with the other groups involved, but agrees it is “going to take that type of cross-collaborative effort to get to the space where we need to be.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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