Gov. Abbott offers shelter deal after two fires at homeless camps

Austin firefighters Thursday morning found two people seriously burned at a homeless campsite just off of East Stassney Lane. Investigators say the injuries were caused by a cooking fire or one set to keep warm on a cold night.

A few hours later there was another fire located under a frontage road bridge along US 183 near Cameron Road. A homeless camp is there, and AFD Division Chief Tom Vocke said the fire was put out from at least three locations. The cause is unknown, and the roadway was closed until crews could make sure there was no structural damage.

"We have no indication to think the fires were malicious in any way. But there is no way for us to tell right now because of the amount of debris down there,” said Vocke.

RELATED: Two hospitalized after fire at Southeast Austin homeless camp

A few people were evacuated, but Vocke said no one had to be rescued.

The US 183 bridge campsite is the same one that caught fire earlier this month. At that time, authorities found elaborate living areas that included generators. Piles of used syringes were also found which a city council member later suggested were left by people who used them for insulin and not illegal drugs.

In response to the fires, Gov. Greg Abbott posted on social media Thursday morning that he was going to offer up five acres of state property for a homeless shelter. That land is near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and recently opened up as a temporary campsite. More than 100 people currently live on the property, which was once a TxDOT maintenance yard. Security is provided by State Troopers. There are also portable restrooms and showers, but those at the site like Erica Soto welcome a more permanent facility.

"I'd be more than willing to help them build it, I'd be one of those volunteers to build it,” said Soto. 


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The Governor's plan involves providing a $1 a month lease deal with a nonprofit called ATX Helps. Back in November the group, spearheaded by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, announced a fundraising campaign. Facilities called Sprung Shelters are to be built with the money.

In a statement sent to FOX 7, chamber president Mike Rollins said in part; 

"If we move forward with a lease agreement for this site, we will be able to provide a navigation center that includes important wraparound services to 150 people who are experiencing homelessness. We are eager to get this first shelter open so we can use the learnings we'll get from it to open additional shelters as we raise more funds."

Paperwork to lease the TxDOT campsite is expected to be authorized next week by members of the state transportation commission. It was not immediately known when groundbreaking on the new shelter could be done.