Homeless camp cleanups in Austin lead to people moving around

Some homeless camps have been cleared around Austin, but they're growing in other areas. The moving around has some feeling the clean-ups are playing "whack-a-mole."

Casper, who did not want to provide his last name, has experienced homelessness for two years.

"It's been really rough, because you constantly have to watch your back," he said.

When asked what he thinks of cleanups of homeless camps, he said, "I really don't think that's justifiable. I think it's more harassment on the homeless people."

Some who live in the area have a different opinion.

"We're getting harassed by the homeless people. I don't mind helping them out, but this is getting really bad," Vincent Lupo said.

On Wednesday, the state cleaned up a homeless camp located along 290 near Menchaca.

Tuesday night, the city of Austin wrapped up meetings about how to tackle homelessness a year after residents voted to outlaw public camping.

The city admitted the increase of people in one park was a direct result of cleanups at nearby camps.

"We are certainly seeing growth in some areas that is directly related to enforcement in other areas," Dianna Grey, homeless strategy officer for the city, said.

Grey says the city is working on a better way to deal with illegal activity in camps, better deliver mental health services, and consider the impact on neighbors.

"Tools that will enable us to evaluate more encampments, recognizing that right now efforts to evaluate and intervene at encampments are somewhat fragmented," Charles Loosen with the homeless strategy division said.

The Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center provides services to those without a home. The director says with many shelters at capacity, there's no legal place for people to go.

"When a cleanup happens, they are forced to move and there's no place for them to move to. They simply kind of play whack-a-mole moving people around and while it does clean up an area, it can also drive those people further into the woods, to unsafe places, or into communities where people are living in their homes," Mark Hilbelink said.

Cleo Petricek with Save Austin Now has this idea.

"You need to make sure the city is doing their part and saying, 'you need to go a shelter, you need to go to drug treatment or whatever you need,' but saying, 'oh no we're okay, we're going to stay in this encampment,' that's unsafe, that should not be allowed," she said.

Meanwhile, neighbors are concerned.

"There's a school. Public school. Kids. What's wrong with this picture?" Lupo said, referring to the scene of homeless people by a school.

Casper says money given to the city for homelessness should be used to get a roof over people's heads.

"They should use the money that they were given to house us," he said.

He wants others to better understand his situation.

"People may see us smiling, laughing, but it's just to hide the pain we go through," he said.

The city is planning on holding meetings on homeless strategy every three months.