City holds meetings about what's being done to tackle homeless camps in Austin

Tuesday night capped off two nights of public meetings about what’s being done to tackle homeless camps in Austin. It comes one full year after residents voted to outlaw public camping.  

"This is the first time I’ve seen any real information about what has been undertaken in this process," said Austin resident Andrew Maynard.

Many Austinites had the same reaction Monday and Tuesday night, as the city’s Homeless Strategy Division held a series of public meetings a year after voters passed Proposition B.

"Solutions are the only thing that needs to be heard right now," said Chase Wright of the Springdale Park Neighborhood Association.

So what is being done? Since implementing Prop B, Austin police have handed out 242 citations for camping.

But, more importantly, City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey says the city is turning out new supportive rental units—at about $200,000 a pop—as part of the Finding Home ATX plan.

In order to meet its goal of housing, 3,000 new people by 2024, the city plans to add 1,300 new units between now and then, though only about 200 will be done this year.

Those near-term units will be in the so-called "homeless hotels", which sparked controversy last year, including the Candlewood Inn & Suites in Northwest Austin, the Texas Bungalows on Burnet Road, and two others which are already being used as "bridge shelters."

"My question is what’s being done about the breakdown of public order," said Maynard.

Many residents who logged in to the meetings are worried it’s all happening too slowly.

"Now it’s just filled with encampments and machetes and just general chaos," said Maynard.

Maynard is talking about Roy G Guerrero Park in Southeast Austin. Grey admits the increase in people camping there is a direct result of cleanups at nearby camps. A similar scene unfolded in South Austin over the past week, where a camp under SH-71 appears to have moved just a few blocks away.

"We are certainly seeing growth in some areas that is directly related to enforcement in other areas," said Grey.

Grey says the city is working on a more unified way to tackle illegal activity in camps, better deliver health services, and consider the impact on neighbors.

"Tools that will enable us to evaluate more encampments, recognizing that right now efforts to evaluate and intervene at encampments are somewhat fragmented," said Charles Loosen, who works in the City of Austin’s Homeless Strategy Division.

The city is now planning to hold updates like these every three months.

"This isn’t a problem you can just look away from," said Antony McGregor Day with the Springdale Park Neighborhood Association.

"You can point fingers at the city all day, but you guys are helping tonight. We’re here," said Wright.

Grey says that as of February the city is 80% of the way to fully funding the Finding Home ATX plan.

We also learned today that the city will be getting $11.4 million from the American Rescue Plan that will go towards housing for the homeless. They’re asking for public comment on how specifically to spend those funds.