AUSTIN, Texas - In December the City of Austin approved a year-long $250,000 contract to clean homeless camps near drainage sites. The contract could be extended for five years and $1.75 million.
The clean up began Tuesday in the Riverside area targeting two sites: one on Wickersham Lane and East Riverside Drive, the other on Willow Creek Drive and East Riverside Drive -- where Andrea Trejo has lived for the past three years.
Trejo lives in the Willow Creek tunnel with friends.
“Some of these people I've known them since school since childhood,” she explained.
It’s where Trejo and her friends keep most of their belongings: bags, bikes, clothes, and Trejo’s prized shoe collection, but now, the group needs to move.
“They’re not safe places. We’re fixing to hit the rainy seasons we’re looking to get a message out of public safety anywhere where homeless encampments exisT and there are furniture, mattresses that could clog these culverts and tunnels is not only a risk to themselves but to the general public,” said Jose Guerrero, Watershed Protection Department assistant director.
The watershed protection department is set to clean up approximately twenty sites but may clean more. They encourage people to call 3-1-1 and report any sites they see.
Those living in the camps are given a 75-hour notice. Trejo is overwhelmed.
“It’s not trash, it’s my stuff I accumulated. That clothes and my shoes and my stuff in there, it’s mine. I mean it doesn’t belong to nobody, it’s my stuff,” she cried.
Austin police and EMS have been conducting outreach at the Willow Creek tunnel, working to connect those living there with housing and medical resources. Trejo has lived on the streets for the past sixteen years. Battling mental illness, she says she could never imagine living inside.
“I started hanging out and this is where I got stuck, I lost my house, lost my car. I had a lot of money in the bank and all that went and I don’t have nothing now -- and I’m starting over,” she said.
The watershed protection department hopes to have a barrier blocking human entry to the Willow Creek Tunnel in place by summer 2020.