Homeless camp in South Austin park igniting concerns

Daren Raykovich used to take his kids to Gillis Park often, but after last year's ordinance changes that relaxed camping rules, he noticed more camping taking place at Gillis.

“It's just gotten worse and worse. We've seen it just kind of spiral out of control. The people who are here camping in this park where kids play, there's a high school right across the way…they need answers like we need answers,” said Raykovich.

He said he reported it to Austin 3-1-1 several times. “Everybody has been calling 3-1-1. I know I’m not the only one who has been calling 3-1-1, and nothing gets done,” he said. 

The revised city rules allow camping in public but not in parks. That's something that the Austin Parks and Recreation Department says they are trying to clarify.

“It's easy to see homelessness is existing across the city and it is occurring on park lands and it has been occurring at Gillis. All 3-11 complaints about camping on park lands do get reported to Austin Parks and Recreation Department. We are going over them and we do our best to get out there,” said Wes Bickham, acting environmental program coordinator at PARD.

Bickham said members of his team have already made their way to Gillis. They also continue to provide information on resources. “I reach out to the individuals and notify them that camping in parks is prohibited, and educate them on the different ordinances that exist. We also have park rules,” said Bickham.

Simply speaking, to end the homelessness crisis, housing needs to provided.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition said that's what they are trying to accomplish. “Until we are able to provide folks a place to go, whether it be inside at a hotel or a permanent housing unit, we are going to have folks who have a need to camp outside,” said Matt Mollica, executive director at ECHO.

Last year, the city of Austin announced they were buying a hotel on I-35 to house the homeless.  

City Council said they may be able to move the homeless into the Rodeway Inn in South Austin as early as two to three months.  As of Jan. 17, the hotel has still not been officially purchased. 

“Now it's still functioning as a normal hotel. It's not purchased by the city yet, just under contract. We are hoping that we will have folks using that space toward the end of March,” said Mollica.

As for Raykovich, he says he has no animosity against those who camp in Gillis, but he just wants the city to understand where he's coming from.

“I feel for these people camping out here. We need to find a solution. These people don't know where to go, and so they are camping in a park,” said Raykovich.