SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The Austin City Council voted yes to begin contract negotiations to hire Matthew Doherty, a national homelessness expert who worked at the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Just a few months ago, Christy Thompson became homeless. “Anyone can become homeless through their tragedy. It could be loss of a loved one, from a car wreck such as my situation,” she said.
She was one of a handful who came to Austin City Hall to share their stories with the council. She says quite often, she has nowhere to turn to for help. “I don’t understand why there is such a lack of compassion and love here. It's been discouraging, do I even want to stay here?” said Thompson.
Thompson was against the Council's decision to bring in Doherty, “How does it make sense to bring a paycheck chaser to come in and fix the homeless of a community he has no ties to?” she said.
Doherty will be paid no more than $95,000 and will come to Austin to develop a strategy to end homelessness. This comes just months after the city's first homeless strategy officer stepped down.
“It's just redundancy at its worst. We already have people working on the homeless issue, why another consultant?” said Gus Pena, an Austin resident.
Mayor Steve Adler said Doherty's national experience will help guide them in the right direction. “We need to learn the things that are working in other cities, the things that are not working in other cities so we are doing absolute best practices,” said Adler.
The mayor said changes in the ordinance had nothing to do with what the city is seeing now.
“We saw pictures last week of a camp that had a fire in it. Remember that camp has been there for years, it's not something that happened with ordinances last year. There has been no shift away from enforcing our ordinances that are designed to protect the public from public safety risks and public health hazards,” said Adler.
Mayor Adler is confident that hiring a consultant like Doherty can be the beginning of solving the homelessness problem. “The council is going to stay focused on what we know works, focused on the data, focused on getting the job done,” said Adler.
Meanwhile, those who live on the streets say they want to keep the current staff and approach the issue with a different method like community engagement with group facilitators.