Finding a Good Solution for Austin’s Homeless Population

Finding a Good Solution for Austin's Homeless Population
  • There has been little to no improvement for Austin’s homeless population since I last wrote about Austin’s homeless situation.
  • Governor Abbott has recently threatened to reinstate Austin’s camping ban.
  • The City Council and Mayor recognize its current efforts are not working and are purchasing more hotels to house some of our homeless population.
  • It’s not clear to me what the solution is, but we should demand more from our local leaders to resolve this problem.

A couple of months ago, I wrote in this blog about the increasing homeless situation in Austin. This is not, of course, a new issue. Any Austin resident knows the basic story – back in 2019, the Austin City Council repealed its ban on camping in public. As a result, since then we have seen an explosion of permanent homeless encampments throughout the City, such as the one pictured above.

Since I wrote that article, there had not been much of a change in the situation – until last week. Now we have had a couple of new developments. And that’s what we will talk about in this entry – what the City and State can do to help our homeless population find permanent housing.

Governor Abbott Wants to Remove Homeless Encampments

We are in an odd numbered year in Texas, so that means the state legislature is meeting. For those not in Texas – our legislature meets for 140 days every two years. The latest session started on January 12.

Last week, Governor Abbott threatened that if the City of Austin did not re-instate its ban on public camping, he would. It’s not clear from his statement what exactly he means by this. Presumably, he means that he will work to pass a statewide ban on camping on public grounds. It is possible, therefore, that Abbott could get the legislature to pass a ban that would overrule the local ordinances.

There is a potential problem with this, however. As of 2019, it appears that camping bans may be unconstitutional. In December of that year, for example, the Supreme Court declined to consider a lower court ruling that Boise, Idaho’s camping ban was unconstitutional. As a result, if Texas does pass a statewide camping ban, it could be setting itself up for a number of lawsuits.

City of Austin Looking at Hotels for Homeless

In mid-2020, the City Council approved the purchase of a downtown-area hotel to house some of the homeless population. It was the fourth such time that the City Council had approved the purchase of a hotel for this purpose. This one would house approximately 75 homeless people.

On Monday, January 25, the City Council approved the purchase of two new hotels to house homeless folks. The new purchases will house approximately 150 people.

Mayor Adler has recently acknowledged what we all have known – the City’s repeal of the camping ban is not working. In his recent interview with the Statesman, Mayor Adler admitted that what they are doing now isn’t working – but neither did what the City was doing previously.

Not coincidentally, the City Council is now considering partially restoring the camping ban. Council Member Ann Kitchen raised a proposal to instruct the city manager to find ways to house a first group of homeless people by August and ban camping in four areas that have been overtaken by tent cities.

What is the Solution?

Austin has a homeless problem. That is not news to anyone. It’s good to see that the City Council and Mayor recognize that the current efforts do not work for anyone.

I do not know what the solution is. But there are smarter, more educated folks that have studied this around the country and come up with better solutions than what Austin has. Other cities have had success finding permanent housing for homeless people. They do not have this many people living in tent cities throughout the city. We need to look to those cities for guidance and ideas.

Hopefully, we can find a solution that benefits and helps our homeless population while also protecting neighborhoods and investments.

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