Two Austin City Council members call for pause on temporary camps

Two Austin City Council members are calling for a "pause on the idea of temporary encampments" following a briefing Tuesday morning on two proposed city-sanctioned homeless campsites.

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison (District 1) and Council member Paige Ellis (District 8) are calling for the pause because they are "not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic," says a statement.

Harper-Madison and Ellis represent the districts where the two proposed campsites are located. One of the sites is a former airport car lot on Manor Road between Pershing Drive and Greenwood Avenue in East Austin in District 1. The other location is along Convict Hill Road between Mopac and Brodie Lane in South Austin in District 8.

The joint statement from Harper-Madison and Ellis reads:

"Austin’s homelessness crisis is a generational challenge that requires real and urgent solutions. Given the stakes, we are open to exploring all ideas, no matter how creative. We’ve supported the HEAL Initiative, the purchase of hotels for permanent supportive housing, investing in preventative services and workforce training programs, and many other strategies. However, while we acknowledge the need to move quickly, we also must move deliberately, transparently, and equitably.

"After more than a week of discussions with city staff, our colleagues, and constituents, we propose to take a pause on the idea of temporary encampments. We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanently. It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend our city’s limited resources on solutions we know can work.

"This year through the American Rescue Plan and our upcoming city budget, we are making historic investments to combat homelessness -- let’s put those dollars to good use by spending them wisely on getting folks the services they need and into permanent housing. We both have a long track record of advocating for abundant affordable housing, and for practical and humane pathways to housing for those living without it. Let’s table the idea of encampments and stay the course on executing already-identified and proven solutions."

At Tuesday's council work sessions, Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray and Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberley McNeeley briefed Council members about these two properties.

Both of the properties are already owned by the city, and were earmarked to be developed into affordable housing. The plan is to use them as homeless camps temporarily.

If the plan moves forward, the idea is to use prefabricated structures called "micro shelters" to house people, not tents. Both locations are near Capitol Metro stops and have access to utilities. The city plans to put up fencing around each site and provide 24-hour security. These two sites were selected by city officials from a long list of possible camps.

People who live near the proposed campsites have voiced concerns about the move.


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