Austin Parks Department surveys greenbelts with known homeless camps

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department visited some known hotspots for homeless camping to help connect people with services. 

“Most folks know it's illegal to be camping in the parks. They're doing it for different reasons, safety being one,” said Wes Bickham, environmental conservation program manager with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

After the Texas Department of Transportation cleaned out camps under overpasses at Governor Greg Abbott’s direction, the Parks Department conducted a survey of homeless people finding solace in those greenbelt hotspots. 

“We are kind of concerned with the amount of people leaving underneath bridges and stuff and finding land, whether it be parkland, or commercial property, or any other city land-owning department,” Bickham said. 

None of the 15 people located were moved out immediately, but the Parks Department said they were connected to service providers and warned that camping in parks is against the law. 

“We do get the question, ‘where can people go?’ And we don't typically have a great answer. With shelters at capacity, that's been really difficult. With the new state-owned facility, we are letting them know that that's available,” said Bickham.             

For Robert Rhodes, the state-sanctioned homeless camp off U.S. 183 near Montopolis is a welcomed change. 

“I'm just down on my luck. My best friend is down on his luck. You know, some of us are just trying to do better for ourselves,” Rhodes said.  

For 10 years he has been without a home. Rhodes tried visiting the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless but said he's never been offered any real housing options. So he ended up where a lot of homeless people go. 

“I used to be over in the woods and lost quite a few stuff there. People come in there and steal our tents and stuff,” said Rhodes.  

Abbott made the state land available for people with nowhere to go after TxDOT started cleaning up camps under overpasses. So far, 18 people have moved in. 

“This is perfect. I ain't gotta worry about getting rained on,” said Rhodes who set up his tent there the first day it opened. “I just love it here. It's just really a nice place. I mean this is a lot safer."

Rhodes said he knows many people who are homeless will not go to the state-run camp because it is farther away from service providers and opportunities to make money. 

The Parks Department encourages people to report illegal camping to 3-1-1. They will revisit Barton Creek, Gaines Creek and Williamson Creek greenbelts later this week or early next week to see if people have moved out from those areas.