Homeless encampments continue to pop up around Austin, despite law

"No one can say that what we have now, in all parts of Austin, is helping anyone," said Cleo Petricek, co-founder for Save Austin Now.

More and more homeless encampment tents are popping up across the Austin area regardless of the camping ban voted back in place last year

"What we have now is unregulated encampments in everyone's neighborhood that are not appropriate for anyone, especially the homeless," said Petricek.

Save Austin Now is the local group that spearheaded the campaign to reinstate the homeless camping ban. Petricek says she believes the city is to blame for the recent uptick in illegal camping.

"I do feel they're letting down every single Austinite, homeless or not. We all deserve to have a safe city and where the homeless have the ability to have a safe campground. These are absolutely things our mayor and city can do," she said.

The city says otherwise.

"We are actively working with individuals who are unhoused, who are living in encampments throughout the city to get them connected to housing and services," said Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council District 9.

When the ban was reinstated in May 2021, the city implemented a four-phase plan to clean up homeless camps. Within a few months of that plan, many public encampments were cleaned up, but, almost one year later, the tents are back and the city says it is a resource issue.

"The truth is, you know, we don't have the resources. We need to make sure that each and every one of our neighbors who's experiencing homelessness has a safe place to go," said Tovo.

Tovo tells FOX 7 Austin that the city is trying to address the camps through the HEAL initiative that was implemented last summer. Just last month, 59 homeless people were moved out of illegal encampments and into city-owned shelters. In total 303 homeless people have been helped through the heal campaign.

Tovo says it is a process to decide which camps are helped through the HEAL program, and there are not enough resources in the initiative to help every camp in the city.

"Limited capacity and our staff, unfortunately, they have a very difficult job of identifying those encampments that pose the highest risk to health and safety and housing those individuals, and that means that some of the other encampments are not going to be prioritized for housing," she said.

According to city officials, there is no current, set date on when another wave of the HEAL initiative will happen, but the city is working on something else: opening a hotel in North Austin.

"The Candlewood Suites in my district is right now being renovated and it will accept about 75 people who are experiencing homelessness, but that's about a year down the road," said Mackenzie Kelly, Austin City Council for District 6.

Petricek believes something more can be done by the city. "That is sad because it's the homeless that are feeling the consequences of the chaos in the city," said Petricek.

FOX 7 Austin reached out to the City of Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray for a statement on the recent increase in tents. Her team sent this:

"Austin Police Department continues regular enforcement activities related to the local camping ordinance and the statewide ban on public camping. Cross-departmental coordination has resulted in over 100 encampment closure actions since August 2021. While most closures occur via voluntary compliance, APD has issued citations related to the camping ordinances. 

Without access to adequate shelter and housing resources, enforcement at one location may result in migration of unsheltered residents to new areas. Enforcement alone is not a solution to homelessness, which is why investments in housing and shelter resources are needed. The City of Austin is taking aggressive steps to increase resources for individuals experiencing homelessness, but there is not currently adequate shelter space for all people displaced by enforcement of state and local public camping laws.

Community-wide goals set in last year’s Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness include expanding capacity to rehouse an additional 3,000 people by the end of 2024. This collaborative effort, now known as Finding Home ATX, will draw on city, county, state, and private resources.

Last June, Austin City Council voted to dedicate $106.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward addressing homelessness. In January, Austin Public Health began the process of soliciting up to $53 million in housing stabilization services. Just last week Austin Public Health released another solicitation for $10 million in crisis services to include shelter. An additional solicitation expected by early June will provide resources for employment, behavioral health, and enhanced access to public benefits.

In the past ten months the Homeless Strategy Division at Austin Public Health has opened two new bridge shelters, compassionately closed 8 high priority encampments, and offered nearly 250 people access to crisis shelter through the HEAL Initiative. Many of the individuals served through the HEAL Initiative have already been rehoused, and many more are on their way to finding a safe and stable home."

Tune in to FOX 7 Austin for the latest Central Texas news.

Body found at East Austin homeless encampment moments before clean-up
City-owned hotel to be renovated into housing for the homeless
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation commits $38 million to fight homelessness in Austin
SUBSCRIBE: Daily Newsletter | YouTube
FOLLOW: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter