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Dianna Grey, Austin’s strategy officer for homelessness, has resigned

Thursday, August 31, 2023 by Jo Clifton

Dianna Grey, who has served as Austin’s strategy officer for homelessness since the beginning of 2021, has resigned.

Interim City Manager Jesús Garza said in an emailed statement, “Dianna will certainly be missed, and I am sorry to see her go. She held a very challenging position as the Homeless Strategy Officer during particularly challenging times. Her impressive portfolio of work includes formally establishing the City’s Homeless Strategy Division, building a team of dedicated staff, and positioning Austin to accomplish our goal of making homelessness brief, rare and nonrecurring. I wish her nothing but success in her future endeavors.”

Grey did not immediately respond to the Austin Monitor‘s request for comment.

City Council Member Ryan Alter told the Monitor that Garza informed him about Grey’s decision on Wednesday. Alter said that Garza had asked Grey to continue in her post, but that she had made up her mind.

“I think she’s been a great asset for the city (and seen us) through a difficult situation,” Alter said. Garza did not offer an explanation for Grey’s decision to step down, he added.

Alter said that the city’s second in command for homelessness strategy, David Gray, will take over the post for the time being. He said that Gray previously worked in the Economic Development Department, where he was an assistant director.

Although Alter did not know Grey’s exact reasons for resigning, he thought it was “a very tough job for anybody.”

“She was very good at what she did and helped the city” considerably, he said, adding that he believes the job takes its toll over time.

Council Member Zo Qadri said in an emailed statement, “Dianna joined the City when we were at an inflection point when it came to homelessness. Since then, she has done tremendous work to put us on a path towards comprehensively addressing this humanitarian crisis. I am deeply grateful for her committed service, and I hope whoever fills her shoes can keep us on track to working on balanced solutions that include temporary shelter services as well as permanent supportive housing.”

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly was less laudatory. She told the Austin Monitor, “Dianna Grey’s decision to resign from her position as the city’s homeless strategy officer calls for an open and honest evaluation of our current approach to tackling homelessness. I believe we must take this opportunity to reflect on our strategies, learn from our past mistakes and forge a new path toward a more effective and compassionate response to this pressing issue.”

Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, founders of political action committee Save Austin Now, took the occasion to criticize the city. In a news release, the pair said, “There is no measure by which a reasonable person can conclude the city’s homeless efforts are working successfully.”

They asked the city to do a complete audit of all spending on homelessness policies since 2019 “to measure outcomes, eliminate waste and duplication, and more efficiently deliver services.” They also urged “fully enforcing” Proposition B, a petition-led initiative approved by Austin voters in May 2021 that reinstated old rules surrounding homelessness, including a ban on camping in public spaces.

Finally, Mackowiak and Petricek called on the city to “abandon its Housing First policy and instead adopt a Treatment First approach. We want our homeless to be safe and receiving services, not dying under highways and being victimized in wooded areas as victims of drug dealers and human and sex traffickers. Now is the time to stop what has failed and adopt what can and will succeed.”

For the six years prior to joining the city of Austin, Grey worked at her own consulting firm. Before that, she was the director of the Texas office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and also served in similar roles for other organizations devoted to providing homes for the unhoused. She graduated from the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs in 2000.

The city has had difficulties finding and retaining its officers in charge of homelessness strategy. Prior to hiring Grey, the post was unfilled for more than a year. The previous officer, Lori Pampilo Harris, took over the job in September 2019. About a month later, she told the city that she needed to step down and work as a part-time consultant in order to spend more time with her family. That lasted only a few months before she quit the city altogether.

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