AUSTIN, Texas - On Monday, both the city and the state started clearing out homeless camps in Austin.
The state focused efforts on areas under overpasses, while the city cleaned up sidewalks around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Both the area around the ARCH and under overpasses will be cleaned out again Tuesday.
“The homeless are going to go right back over there,” said Crystal Davis, who was homeless until recently.
Many people did return to the same camp they left just hours earlier. At the ARCH, police were able to create a list of those willing to work with service providers. Of the 156 people identified as homeless in the area around the ARCH, 65 agreed to identify themselves.
“We've got a list of 65 individuals that, per the ordinance, we need to be in a position as a city to offer them non-sheltered housing before we could take any type of action, such as an enforcement under the ordinances,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. "Remembering that the goal in all of this is to find shelter and housing for all of the homeless in Austin."
As for the people camping under the U.S. 290 overpass, TxDOT said everyone who was asked to move complied.
“They took the approach of also offering services to those experiencing homelessness under these bridges and there were no requests made from the reports that we had,” Manley told the Public Safety Commission Monday.
“I don't want to stay in the shelters because there's bedbugs, lice, they don't keep the places clean like they're supposed to. It's bad,” said Clyde Cates who has been homeless for the past three years.
Manley said the state moving in to clean up under bridges could help his officers reach out to camps previously left unchecked.
“Depending on the frequency to which they operate under the bridges and conduct these cleanup operations, the possibility exists it will free up city resources to pay attention to maybe other areas that, just do to a bandwidth issue, we weren't able to,” Manley said.
Seeing the state step in to clean out homeless camps helped satisfy some people in South Austin.
“It'll make my neighborhood safer. They don't need to be comfortable. They don't need to be camping and it's unhealthy,” said Claudia Cuchia who lives near the U.S. 290/West Gate overpass.
Others said the actual impact the cleanups make will be negligible.
“They're not going to go into shelters unless they're put into a shelter, so they're just going to find another spot to go to,” Davis said.
Austin's Homeless Strategy Officer Lori Pampilo Harris said everyone identified as homeless by service providers was offered shelter. Those who didn't go simply didn't want to. However, she said the homeless do want housing and the city is looking into motels or hotels where they could offer that.