Mayor hopes concerns about Austin's homeless camping ordinance lead to more support

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said changing ordinances affecting the homeless population has encouraged more people in the city to get involved in finding solutions. 

"We have not been successful in being able to get the public's attention and their commitment and their drive," Adler said. 

When it comes to Austin's homeless crisis, the mayor has everyone's attention now.

"Change back to the way things were, the problems go away. That I believe," said Bob Woody who owns dozens of bars downtown.  

City Council made changes to sit, lie and camping ordinances six weeks ago, lifting several restrictions on where people can set up camp as long as it's public property and not a health or safety concern. 

The mayor said since doing that, Austin's homeless population has become impossible to ignore. 

"I think there are a lot more people that are noticing folks that are homeless in our community. We actually see people now in places where we didn't see them before," Adler said. 

David Leal said he came to Austin from Fort Worth specifically because he was told there are better services for the homeless here, and he doesn't think he's alone. 

"Why is Austin is the dumping ground for the homeless? Why Austin?" Leal asked.   

"I, too, have heard the concern that if we actually do what we need to do to deal with homelessness in our community all we'd be doing would be inviting folks experiencing homelessness from other cities to come to Austin, except that every professional that I talk to in this field tells me that that's an urban myth," said Adler.

Either way, public outcry about problems created by changing the ordinance comes at a convenient time for the city. 

"The city manager's going to give us his budget on Monday and, it is my hope and expectation that, it's going to contain real significant spending to deal with homelessness and housing in this city," Adler said. 

The mayor said ordinance changes weren't made with a goal of gaining support for increased spending on homeless services. 

"We didn't change the ordinance in June in order to make the challenge more visible. We changed the ordinance in June because it wasn't working," said Adler.  

Although, he can use the controversy to his advantage. 

"I am betting that this community, at this point, is ready to step up and do what's necessary to actually provide the spaces and support that folks experiencing homelessness need in our community," Adler said. 

Adler does expect there will be changes made to the camping ordinance after the city manager lays out suggested safe locations.