AUSTIN, Texas - Residents in Windsor Park, a neighborhood in Central Austin’s northeast quadrant, say a homeless encampment along Tannehill Branch Creek is growing.
Kevin Ludlow has lived in the neighborhood for eight years. In that time, he says he has seen many small camps come and go. Over the past few months, he noticed a change -- as a large encampment grows roots.
Around December, Ludlow began documenting the growth, filming the camp's transformation. He says he made the decision to record because “we started having more and more people walk behind our houses.”
Joseph Whittle lives in an apartment complex bordering the camp. “There’s been more tents going up, and tarps placed over trees, and just, in general, the occupancy,” he said.
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Whittle says he put out a camera to watch his car after his friend's motorcycle was stolen. He says he would not buy a home that borders the creek. “There’s a lot of theft and breaking and entering that happens here,” he said.
The camp is located in a flood plain. "Everything that gets left behind winds up making its way down to our yards," said Ludlow.
FOX 7 Austin contacted a public information manager for the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department.
“Watershed Protection is aware of the homeless encampment in Windsor Park Creek and cleaned this site last on March 6 under a previous contract. This contract, however, was canceled when the contractor requested to be withdrawn due to Covid-19 safety concerns. At that time, Watershed Protection homeless encampment cleanups came to a halt. We are now going to Council on September 3 for a new emergency contract with a different contractor in the amount of $147k to allow us to resume cleanups with specific Covid-19 safety protocols in place,” she explained.
“We need help one way or the other, I’m not saying that these people deserve to have their lives destroyed, but we don’t deserve to have our lives destroyed either,” said Ludlow, adding “You’ve got thousands of needles on the ground. You’ve got fecal matter, there’s contaminants. We’ve got a pandemic going on right now.”
Ludlow says some of the camp's residents work and are “down on their luck," while others suffer from addiction. He believes more resources should be available to those who suffer from substance abuse.
“They also still need a place to sleep, they’re still people too. I would like to see us have organizations willing to help them on the merit that they’re a human being.”
In July, representatives for nonprofit Save Austin Now announced that they submitted a petition to the City Clerk’s Office to reinstate a camping ban.
“I think the fact that we did is a real strong sign that Austin residents do not believe the camping ordinance has been good for our city, has been good for our neighborhoods, has been good for safety -- and we’ve made the case consistently that we do not believe it’s compassionate for the homeless community,” said Matt Mackowiak, Save Austin Now co-founder and Travis County GOP chair. "We do not believe it’s good for a homeless person. They can sleep on the sidewalk in 95-degree heat in July."
“I don’t know if that’s the right answer or not. I guess I would say that I’m sympathetic to people who feel that way. I can appreciate living in a neighborhood where you feel helpless.” said Ludlow. “What I want are some long term sensible strategies that are really gonna allow people like this to get off the street.”