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A new approach to proactively engage people experiencing homelessness downtown

The Homelessness Engagement Assistance Response Team, or HEART Austin, is a program in partnership with Urban Alchemy piloting a new approach to proactively engage with and address the needs of people experiencing homelessness downtown.

HEART program practitioners will work hand-in-hand with the Downtown Austin Alliance Ambassadors and Austin Police Department to address non-emergency issues, de-escalate behavioral issues, and provide interventions to address or prevent mental health episodes, interrupt behavioral disturbances, prevent crimes, and connect people to social services and housing resources. The self-initiated engagements from practitioners will allow for relationship building, assessing individuals’ needs, connecting with and transporting to services and reuniting people with families and personal support networks.

In the first two months of this 6-month pilot:

  • HEART Austin practitioners made a total of 394 interactions with people experiencing homelessness
  • 14 people attained shelter at ARCH and the newly reopened 8th Street Shelter
  • 11 people were added to the shelter wait list
  • 6 people resolved their homelessness by being reunified with their families
  • 10 people completed Coordinated Assessments, which is the citywide vulnerability indexing/housing enrollment tool to get people in queue for housing
  • 14 people attained essential social services, including obtaining vital documents, public benefits, social security, disability income, food pantry and transportation services
  • 234 people were referred to the Oasis, which is the outdoor area set up at the 8th Street Shelter as a place for people to get water, coffee, snacks and to engage with Urban Alchemy practitioners to learn where other services are available in the shelters
  • 754 social service activities were provided, including provision of food, water, hygiene supplies, clothing, shoes and first-aid supplies
  • 7 people were provided Narcan to treat narcotic overdose
  • 8 people created a service plan to address their needs

Currently, the Downtown Ambassadors and the Austin Police Department interact with people experiencing homelessness downtown more than 120 times a day on average. HEART Austin will help amplify these existing efforts.

HEART austin urban alchemy program in california
Photo of a similar Urban Alchemy program in California.

Frequently Asked Questions

HEART Austin will test a new approach to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. In partnership with Urban Alchemy, the nonprofit that manages the ARCH and Eighth Street Shelter, the goal of the program is to reduce the unsheltered population by 75%.

Practitioners will work hand-in-hand with the Downtown Austin Alliance Ambassadors and Austin Police Department to de-escalate interactions and interventions to address and/or prevent mental health episodes, interrupt behavioral disturbances and prevent crimes.

The program will launch on February 1, 2024 and run through July 31, 2024, during the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in high-need areas downtown.

The area between Congress Ave., and Brazos Street and 4th Street and 9th Street, as well the 5th Street to 7th Street blocks from Congress Ave., to the I-35 W frontage road and in the 200-300 block of 4th Avenue, including alleyways, are the high-need parts of downtown that the program will focus on.

HEART austin program boundary map homelessness engagement assistance response team

HEART, which will employ a supervisor, practitioner and a communications/data quality coordinator will collect the following information:

  • Changes in quarterly PID unsheltered homeless counts
  • Number of engagements and de-escalation interventions
  • Placements/enrollments into shelter, services, housing, medical and/or mental health treatment
  • Diversions from Austin Police Department resources
  • Numbers of responses to service requests and self-initiated contacts, as well as response times

The program will help identify new ways to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness based on individual needs. Utilizing the successful model from Urban Alchemy, HEART will have the boots-on-the-ground, proactive engagement that has been successful in other communities, resulting in lasting change.

The self-initiated engagements by a HEART practitioner, as opposed to solely law enforcement, will allow for relationship building, assessing individuals’ needs, connecting with and transporting to services and reuniting people with families/personal support networks.

Always call 911 whenever you see or are experiencing public activity of distress, violence or erratic behavior.

HEART Austin is a fully-funded pilot program. The best way to help people living on the street is to donate resources and time to groups like Urban Alchemy, The Other Ones Foundation, Caritas of Austin and Austin ECHO, among many others.

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