Austin’s homeless left with nowhere to go amid camping crackdown

It has been two months since the City of Austin implemented the final phase of its four-phased plan to reinstate the homeless camping ban. Now, many public spots downtown and around the city have been cleared of encampments.

Underneath I-35 used to be home to dozens of people experiencing homelessness in downtown Austin for a long time, but now there's barely a tent in sight. In fact, multiple public, high visible spots around the city have been wiped clean. However, those people are still experiencing homelessness just not camping in those areas anymore due to the camping ban.

"The majority of the individuals who were in those encampments are still homeless. They're just camping elsewhere at the moment," said Council Member Kathie Tovo.

Tovo says the enforcement of the homeless camping ban has forced people to camp not there-- but in other areas. "Unfortunately in most cases, those individuals don't have stable housing to go to and they are simply finding less visible places to camp," said Tovo.

According to a City of Austin spokesperson, the city has rehomed 150 people from encampments to shelters through the HEAL initiative that was passed earlier this year. This has been a separate project from Prop B where a select number of people from four areas have been connected with housing and resources.

"In terms of those efforts, those individuals who were in those encampments are now housed and those who accepted the offer of housing, and just nearly all of them did, are receiving the kinds of services and support that will help them be successful in that housing," said Tovo.

Unfortunately, HEAL cannot provide immediate housing or shelter to everyone subject to enforcement due to only a limited number of resources available. A city spokesperson said this:

"While the city has committed substantial new resources to address homelessness, the overall community crisis shelter capacity remains limited. This means that the city is not in a position to offer immediate housing or shelter to everyone who is subject to enforcement. Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey and the team are monitoring opportunities for the safe restoration of bed capacity at existing city shelters, but the current COVID-19 risk level does not yet permit the return to pre-COVID occupancy levels. The Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) works in the central business district to connect unsheltered individuals to primary health care, behavioral health resources and assistance with a coordinated assessment to be prioritized for housing resources, among other services."

The goal is to implement a second phase of the HEAL initiative next month to serve around 200 people experiencing homelessness. Tovo says the community has to work together to find places for these people to live so they do not have to continue to hop around to avoid a ticket from APD.

"Housing is absolutely the solution. We end homelessness with housing. Asking individuals to leave the encampment because it's in a highly visible location does not resolve their housing situation," said Tovo.

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