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July 16, 2020

Op-ed: Austin’s decision to decriminalize homelessness is working

AUSTIN, Texas (July 16, 2020) — A year ago this month, measures intended to decriminalize homelessness went into effect in Austin.

Austin’s City Council took the meaningful first step of decriminalizing simple acts of survival, like sleeping, eating, sitting, and asking for money or other resources. Looking back on the last 12 months, it’s clear that these ordinance changes have done exactly what they were designed to do.

In an op-ed published in the Austin Chronicle on Thursday, July 16, ECHO Executive Director Matt Mollica explains how the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the successes of decriminalizing homelessness:

“Our city has accomplished a lot in the last year since decriminalizing homelessness because our unsheltered neighbors are safer and easier to engage. The 2020 Point in Time Count was our community’s most accurate to date and allowed our partners to deploy much-needed hygiene and food supplies more strategically as we try to keep our most vulnerable community members safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Eating Apart Together (EAT) Initiative, a collaboration between the city and nonprofits to provide meal bags to people experiencing homelessness, recently surpassed 100,000 meals delivered to encampments and providers during the pandemic. The scale of this program would not have been possible if people still feared arrest or harassment due to their unsheltered status.

The city of Austin is leveraging federal dollars to provide COVID-19 protective lodging to the most medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness using non-congregate hotel rooms as emergency shelter. The city of Austin, our homeless service provider community, and ECHO are committed to ensuring that none of the people staying in those rooms returns to homelessness.”

– Matt Mollica, ECHO Executive Director, writing in the Austin Chronicle

The move to decriminalize homelessness is a positive first step. It is now time for our community to take the next one and invest substantially in Permanent Supportive Housing and other permanent housing interventions.

As the city of Austin considers its budget for the upcoming year, it is critical that we recognize and address the needs of our homeless services system. Use this link to email all members of City Council to voice your support for their continued commitment to ending homelessness in Austin.

Read the full op-ed here.