The city has made homelessness a top issue over the last couple years, with major increases in funding for homelessness services ($28 million/year) along with new strategies for connecting those on the streets to services that will lead them to housing.
One program of note is the Homeless Outreach Street Team, a pilot collaboration of the police department, health specialists and EMS, which kicked off in June 2016. It’s a team of people from those agencies who try to engage directly with homeless people, see what kind of help they might need, and refer them to resources. Council allocated funding to make that program permanent.
Now the city is announcing a new pilot program modeled after one that got a lot of attention in Albuquerque.
A new pilot program between the City of Austin, Family Eldercare, and The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF) provides labor opportunities for those experiencing homelessness.
As of October 15, the Workforce First Program offers day employment opportunities such as litter abatement in City parks. Team members provide employees with transportation to and from worksites, lunch, and counseling services.
Outgoing Council Member Ellen Troxclair has been a big booster of the plan, viewing it as a shining example of compassionate conservatism. She’s quoted in the city press release:
“I am so thrilled the Workforce First program is underway! My goal is to empower people experiencing homelessness in Austin by providing them the chance to earn money through a day’s work, while getting them connected to counseling and services they may need to get back on their feet. I am hopeful this pilot program will grow and evolve into a sustainable model for helping the homeless break the cycle of poverty in a truly transformative way. Thank you to Chris Baker with The Other Ones Foundation for his work in making this a success so far!” said Ellen Troxclair, Austin City Council Member District 8.
When I reported on the early conversation about this policy last year, I noted that Troxclair, pragmatically, didn’t object to Greg Casar and Kathie Tovo’s insistence that participants in the program be paid the city living wage ($15 now).