Fire at small homeless encampment underneath 290, West Gate

A recreation of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" sits unscathed next to charred remnants of a Monday morning fire underneath 290 and West Gate in South Austin.

The Austin Fire Department described it as a trash fire.

Also this weekend, firefighters responded to a grass fire at a homeless camp on Montopolis and Ben White.

"It seems, in my opinion, that the homeless feel emboldened that they can do absolutely anything and nothing will happen," said Cleo Petricek.  

About 5 minutes from the spot is a building the City of Austin is considering as a new homeless shelter.

Petricek is leading a community effort in opposition of that location.

"Putting it near homes, putting it near schools, putting it where there's already a criminal element happening it's a recipe for disaster," she said.  

The group that's formed as a result called "S.A.F.E" (Safe Austin For Everyone) is holding a meeting on August 6th.  They've invited Mayor Adler, Council Members Ann Kitchen and Sabino “Pio” Renteria, City Manager Spencer Cronk and Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. The meeting is happening at Central Texas Gun Works on Ben White Boulevard.

As a business owner, Michael Cargill with Central Texas Gun Works has seen the homeless issue grow in the past year and a half. They have folks come to the door asking to go to the restroom, which Cargill says they have allowed.

"We have leftover pizza so we'll let them come in and have some of that from our classes,” Cargill said. “So those things that we do as a business owner, we're not trying to grow the community, we just don't want to be heartless.”

Cargill says with the recent changes to city ordinances making it perfectly legal to camp, sit and lie, he feels the problem will be much worse a year from now. He says the rules, before they were changed, were "tough love."

"You have to empower yourself, to lift yourself up to be a better person and be a member of society and be productive to society. If not, then what good are you?" Cargill said.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler spoke with FOX 7 over the weekend about his trip to the west coast learning from their troubles solving the crisis.

"If you ask them what they wish they would have done, they would have said that they wished they had started acting sooner before their challenges just multiplied and mushroomed," Adler said.

Adler says the number of homeless in Austin is much smaller than in those cities: a little more than 2,000 according to Austin's "point in time" count done earlier this year. Adler says in Los Angeles, it's more than 40,000.

"When you get to that scale of a challenge, I don't even know how you wrap your arms around it,” Adler said. “But in Austin if we're willing to put the resources against it, if the [City] Manager starts coming back to us in August with where we can find funds as we have told him we wanted him to do.”

Adler says there will always be a reason why a shelter shouldn’t be somewhere.

"There will always be neighborhoods and surrounding groups that wish it was somewhere else,” Adler said. “And I understand that because when we think about that all we think about is the ARCH. We have to make sure we never do that again.”

Speaking of the ARCH, by September the shelter will remove some beds -- they'll go from 190 to 130 in an effort to better serve those who stay there.

The S.A.F.E. meeting is at 321 Ben White Blvd, #203 on August 6 at 6 p.m.