AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The South Austin community is fighting back against the location of a proposed homeless shelter.
Tuesday, Safe Austin For Everyone Project held a meeting to discuss concerns about the shelter and changes made to ordinances affecting the homeless population.
“I don't know what we need to do to make the City Council hear us,” said Claudia Cuchia, who works with SAFE Project, a group of community members concerned about homelessness in the area.
Three empty chairs were front and center during the community discussion. SAFE Project members said that represented the City Council and mayor, who, although invited a month in advance to the meeting, weren't in attendance.
“I really fully believe that they don't care about us. It's really sad,” Cuchia said.
The meeting at Woodlawn Baptist Church drew about 75 people who live near a growing homeless camp under the Highway 290 bridge near Packsaddle Pass. Concerns about fire dangers, health and safety risks and crime were the focus of much of the discussion.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley did what he could to field questions, but agreed many of them needed to be directed instead to policymakers. “I'm all about helping people that want help, but I'm also about a safe environment and I'm not safe. The children in the area are not safe, the old people in the area are not safe and people's property is not safe,” said Cuchia.
The main complaint from the audience was the proposed location of the city's new South Austin homeless shelter. In June, council set aside $8.6 million for that property on Ben White Boulevard near Bannister Lane. People in South Austin worry it will affect the safety of nearby schools and neighborhoods and eventually look similar to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.
The mayor said that will not happen.
“We shouldn't have people camping, sitting, lying outside the ARCH. We shouldn't have people camping, sitting, lying around any shelter that we have in the city, or any bridge home, or any navigation center,” Adler said to FOX 7 Austin on August 1st.
Carlos Urbani said he moved under a South Austin bridge specifically to escape the ARCH where he didn't feel safe. “Well they need more security and don't let them hang out on the porch all day. Make them go out, go look for work. Some piece of paper saying you went out and looked for work, so you can prove it and not hang around the ARCH, that place, all day,” Urbani said.
People in attendance at the meeting said they aren't confident the city can run a shelter successfully, and they wanted to hear from city leaders about the selection process of that location.
“So Mayor, City Council, we're not going anywhere, and we're coming after you,” Cuchia said.
Chief Manley did point out to the audience that there are more upcoming town hall meetings about the proposed shelter and changes to ordinances affecting the homeless population.
The Downtown Austin Alliance confirms the mayor and council members will be in attendance at the next one on August 21 at 10 am at the Convention Center.