AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Mayor Steve Adler stands firm behind the city's decision to do away with ordinances he says criminalize people affected by homelessness.
One of several policies eliminated was one that blocked people from camping in public spaces; now they can as long as they don't obstruct walkways or pose a health or safety hazard. This change prompted concerns of "tent cities" and public safety.
"Austin's challenge is at a scale right now where we ought to do something about it, we don't want to get to a place where other cities are," Adler said. "These concerns did not start last week they predate that and now we need to do something that actually effectively and substantially deals with that concern."
A concerned viewer sent FOX 7 a photo of an abandoned mattress outside on 2nd Street and San Antonio Street. Clean-up is an issue that Mayor Adler said will be resolved when the city manager returns in August with an executive director and a plan.
Along with clean-up surfaced the issue of sanitation. The police union is looking to the city to foot the bill for any additional immunizations and machines designed to eliminate germs officers might contract when entering homeless camps.
"If someone sees someone camping on the sidewalk obstructing passage yes you can call 911 and police can come and act if you see anything that is creating public health harm, syringes or people defecating on the streets, then yes our ordinances prohibit that," said Adler. "We want to make sure that our first responders have everything that they need. There is not a job without a risk, which is why we are so in debt to our public safety officers."
The decision gained traction on social media when Gov. Greg Abbott called Austin's homeless policy "reckless" and referred to a traffic incident allegedly caused by homeless people on 7th Street and I-35.
"The governor was misled the same way so many people in our community were when they saw that initial tweet that I understand came from some legislative staffers that apparently made it up," Mayor Adler said. "I urge everyone including the governor's staff to make sure the things that they are looking at are in fact true."
Adler hopes this next legislative session will provide funding assistance to help decrease the number of people living on the streets. He said he remains optimistic with adequate housing, more resources and an executive director to lead the effort. The city of Austin may set the example for other cities across the nation.
"Not everything is going to work but a lot will. We are going to keep what works we are going to discard what does not work but we are going to attack this challenge," said Adler.
The mayor will be traveling to Los Angeles next week to meet with the city mayor and examine the city's response to the issue surrounding homelessness.