What Is The Solution to Austin's Homeless Problem?

Ash Jurberg

Homeless ManPexabay. Free to use Commons Creative Licence

Yesterday Austin voters chose to ban homeless encampments within the city limits, with Proposition B on Austin's May 1 ballot also criminalizing panhandling at certain places and during certain times. The ban had been lifted in 2019 amidst much anger and was challenged by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who vowed to take action and ensure the ban was reinstated.

There is no doubt that some of the homeless camps are eyesores and walking through some downtown areas, particularly beneath overpasses, sees large camps of homeless people. There are legitimate health and safety concerns due to this. But the question remains- what is the solution to Austin's homeless problem? Where are these people supposed to turn, and what services can they be offered.

The number of homeless people in Austin continues to rise. In 2020, the number of homeless people living in Austin was 2,506, an increase of 11% from the previous year. The number grew by 33% between 2016 and 2020, but in reality, these counts provide only a snapshot of the issue, and the real numbers are undoubtedly higher. Another count of homeless was due in February but was canceled due to the COVID pandemic.

Homeless in AustinHomelessness_in_austin Instagram

Since January, Dianna Grey has been The City of Austin’s homeless strategy officer and admits the current wait for housing is "extraordinarily long."

“There is no shortage of pressure to address this crisis. And that pressure has existed long before the ballot initiative was even on the horizon. That pressure is about the number of people that are living on the streets and desperately need housing, ” Dianna Grey, The City of Austin’s homeless strategy officer

The severe winter storm that engulfed Texas in February added increased pressure to the homeless situation, and the Austin community and city banded together to offer shelter to those suffering in the severe Arctic conditions. It was these efforts that saved hundreds of lives.

Grey released the Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative back in April. This outlined the plan for a population count, outreach efforts, identification of four problem camping areas, and relocation of the homeless residents of those spots into permanent housing. The cost of this is expected to be $4.3 million. An additional 400 beds in additional permanent housing will come from federal aid and 140 units to come from the city’s two hotel purchases for a total of $16.2 million.

City officials have reiterated time and again their position that providing more housing is the only way to mitigate the homeless problem substantially.

Texas Legislature is considering bills that would results in bans on homeless encampments across Texas. House Bill 1925 and Senate Bill 987 would make camping in an unapproved public place a Class C misdemeanor. Austin Mayor Steve Adler heavily criticized the Austin city proposition and the Senate and House bills.

"My hope is that voters aren’t going to take us back to where we were before, because that wasn’t working, and our homeless challenge was growing exponentially. At the same time, I drive around this city, too, and see the same things that are concerning a lot of people." Mayor Steve Adler, before the vote.

Do you think the ban on homeless encampments is the right move? What else can the city of Austin be doing to help the thousands of homeless Austin residents?

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