- Late last summer, Austin started tearing down homeless encampments and dispersing the people who were staying there.
- But Austin does not have enough beds to house all of the folks experiencing homelessness in Austin.
- Hopefully some corporate citizens can come up with creative solutions to help those who are most in need.
This week I want to revisit a topic that we have not talked about in a while – Austin’s homelessness issues. I’ll explain later in the article why this topic is in my mind this week. But, if you recall, the last time we checked in, Austin had a serious problem with homeless encampments all around the city. And then the voters elected to once again outlaw camping on public grounds. It was something I advocated for because having homeless encampments all around the city is not a good and feasible long-term solution to homelessness.
But the correction always came with one big issue – once the homeless folks are forcibly removed from their encampments, where are they going to go? It’s a question that I do not think we, as Austin citizens, have been prepared enough to answer. But its too important a question to just ignore. So this week I am writing about what potential solutions Austin has put forward and then maybe some outside solutions that got me thinking about this issue again.
Where Have all the Homeless Folks Gone?
It was late last summer or early fall when the City started breaking down the homeless encampments and moving people out of them. At that point, the homeless folks were no longer allowed to camp on public grounds and had to go somewhere else.
The Austin homeless population is estimated to be about 3000 people. Unfortunately, we just currently do not have enough beds to house that many people on a regular basis. As a result, there are many fellow citizens who are sleeping on the streets at night.
There are, of course, multiple potential solutions that exist. While these groups are all undoubtedly doing their best, combined these efforts still do not fulfill all the demand there is for housing. These options include –
- ARCH – The ARCH building downtown at 7th and Neches is run by Front Steps. They can serve about 200-300 people per day and have about 190 beds for overnight stays.
- Other housing options – Other places around the city like the Austin Shelter for Women and Children, Casa Marianell, and Lifeworks all house folks experiencing homelessness.
- Hotel Purchases – The City has purchased a few hotels to convert into lodging for homeless folks. Each one will house about 20 people when completed.
- Encampments – There are still some encampments that pop up throughout the city. And eventually they are torn down.
- Developers – Some developers have worked with the city to help house some folks experiencing homelessness.
Despite the effort of these great groups, we still do not have enough housing to meet the needs of everyone who is currently on the streets.
Potential Corporate Solutions to Homelessness
So now I will tell you why this topic came to mind when I was debating what to write about this week. Elon Musk has been in the news a lot lately. It seems like that is always the case, doesn’t it? As you probably know, he acquired about 9% of the outstanding stock of twitter. And then briefly flirted with joining the Twitter board and buying out the rest of Twitter’s stock.
During this time, he was tweeting a lot, as you can expect. And in one of the tweets he suggested closing Twitter’s headquarters – since, as he wrote, nobody goes there anyway – and turning it into a homeless shelter.
Shortly thereafter, Jeff Bezos responded that Amazon had done something similar in Seattle. And in addition to housing a number of folks previously experiencing homelessness, having the housing on Amazon’s campus made it easy for employees to volunteer at the shelter.*
I am embarrassed to admit that Amazon opened this almost two years ago and I had no idea. But I am fascinated by the idea. I am sure there are some unintended consequences of this – and Bezos hasn’t escaped all criticism. But I find the criticism – at least in that article – to be unconvincing.
Amazon and Bezos are doing something in Seattle to try to help house people who are experiencing homelessness. They should be commended for doing it. And I hope they – and all the other CEOs and companies moving to Austin, including Elon Musk – will follow his lead and come up with creative solutions to help our citizens who most need it.
*I’ve written previously about the return of the corporate town. And every time I see a Google or Meta or Amazon office, it appears that we get closer and closer to that reality. But that’s an article I will revisit later.