Residents push back on new city of Austin homeless camp plan

An old parking lot on Manor Road is one of two locations the city of Austin is considering for a homeless campground

Several years ago, passengers who flew into Mueller Airport would go to the lot in East Austin between Pershing Dr. and Greenwood Ave. and get rental cars. Stephen Walker says he once worked on the lot. He is worried, what happened around city hall and along local roadways, will now happen here.

"I don’t know, you know I'm for them helping folks, and what-not- I don’t know if it would be a good idea for camps," said Walker.

A bus stop is a short walk from the site, but so is a day care. Residents in the Seabrook community say they anticipated the city owned property would be used for more traditional type of housing.

"We want a neighborhood, with housing, affordable housing, someplace that we would look across from there and see our neighbors, said resident Clay Olmstead.

City officials claim the campsites they've identified meet search criteria and will not be permanent. Instead of tents, temporary prefab structures will be used, similar to those going up at the state operated camp near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport known as micro shelters. However, that and a promised residential outreach campaign did not ease concerns.

"There has to be a place, there has to be a place for the homeless, but not here. And if it’s claimed to be temporary, I really doubt that. Once it’s grown in I think it would be very hard to move it and that would be really very difficult for all neighbors, all of us, But there's got to be a place," said Sandi Hemimsath who lives near the proposed campsite.

The site along Convict Hill in Southwest Austin is similar to the location on Manor Road. There are neighborhoods and schools and it’s also part of Old Austin. 

Debbie Swenson Hamilton lives next to the proposed campsite which recently was a church. Years ago, the property was part of her family's dairy farm. "I'm going to fight it, I'm going to do whatever I can do to fight this," said Hamilton.

The land, now owned by the city, is located between MoPac and Brodie Lane. "I don’t feel I should be thrown out of my home because of safety reasons, and health reasons and made to feel like I have to sell to get out of this," said Hamilton.

The community push back is similar to other city homeless shelter plans that have been pushed out. Bryce Brown who rents a house in a nearby neighborhood told FOX 7 he understands the City’s dilemma.

"I would want anybody living in a tent, for that to be temporary. You know what I mean, so I would want to put pressure on the city to find housing for people just because people need housing, not for any of my needs," said Brown.

The community outreach program on both sites is expected to start sometime in August, which will involve community meetings. Other opportunities for residents to give feedback include council meetings and an online survey. 

Both properties will require rezoning and if approved move in may not happen until later this fall.

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