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New collaborative hopes to address equity gaps in Austin's response to homelessness

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Austin has consistently struggled to get people living outdoors into homes. Part of that failure lies in the city’s unprecedented real estate boom and affordability crisis over the last 10 years. Another reason is that people of color — who are overrepresented among Austin's homeless population — haven’t been able to connect with housing and case management as easily as white Austinites.

A new project hopes to change that.

The St. David’s Foundation is giving the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) a $2 million grant to focus on getting marginalized Austinites — Black, Latino and LGBTQ folks — services.

The project, called the Austin Street Outreach Collaborative, aims to hire 12 people over the two-year grant to connect these individuals with grassroots organizations already doing the work in marginalized communities.

Alesandra Dominguez, the associate director of ECHO's Crisis Response System, said this program could be crucial, as those smaller, more flexible nonprofits have on-the-ground experience, but don’t get as much federal or local grant money as larger groups.

"This type of funding will really allow us to make a shift toward a more equitable system," she said. "A lot of those more grassroots outreach providers don’t have the services to be able to … [support] more people."

The effort was spurred in part by ECHO's retooling of a program that determines who needs services the most. Dominguez found the system connected white Austinites with housing more often than Black Austinites.

She said the collaborative also hopes to address geographic equity by expanding service beyond the downtown area. She said the outreach team will go directly to folks experiencing homelessness, rather than rely on folks to come to a certain provider.

"It allows us to really reach ... more marginalized clients that maybe don't feel as comfortable accessing our [services] at our more traditional access points, which are typically, unfortunately, in downtown areas," she said.

Dominguez said the program aims to begin hiring and get off the ground early next year.

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