On May 6, 2021, Austin City Council asked the City Manager's office and staff to come up with a plan and land to relocate homeless people who were camping under underpasses, in medians, and all over the city of Austin. That was five days after Austin voters passed Proposition B to ban homeless camping throughout the city. Five days isn't enough time to help those criminalized by the passing of Proposition B.
Save Austin Now, a PAC formed to compose the proposition and push for it to pass, had been touting it for months before the vote. Even those campaigning against the proposition didn't really hold out much hope that it wouldn't pass. So, for months, the city knew that recriminalizing homeless camping and panhandling was most likely coming. Why wait until five days after the vote to begin looking for solutions?
Granted, leaders did begin meeting in March and April in a stakeholder summit, and created a plan to increase local services, and build or buy housing units for between 1,000 and 3,000 people by April 2024. That's three long years away. Too long to help most of the people currently camping in the city.
Laura Huffman, president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce stated then, "Like a lot of complicated issues, one of the big things that had to happen was people had to...agree that this was a complex problem and it was going to require a big set of solutions." While true, it doesn't explain why the active search for those solutions started as late as March 2021.
In addition, most of the summit plan's funding is still not in place. It's estimated to cost around $515 million to house 3,000 people. Over 43% of that, according to Community Impact Newspaper, is needed form local and federal funding sources that haven't been allocated yet.
We're now seeing the unfortunate results of waiting so long to begin offically addressing the issue. As the city of Austin and the Austin Police Department roll out a tiered approach to getting people in the encampments to clear out, those encamped have no official place to go in the short run. The tiered approach is a compassionate one, based on the fact that writing tickets and arresting campers immediately will only make matters worse. The more in debt someone who is homeless gets with misdemeanor tickets, the less likely they are to be able to ever climb out of homelessness.
Still, even with an approach that doesn't immediately give homeless people a criminal record for camping and panhandling, the problem of where they should move after the highest level of the tier is enforced has not been resolved.
In the short run, the city of Asutin is converting a hotel it owns on Oltorf and I-35. It was first used to house people with COVID. Residents of the most high profile encampments are being encouraged to move there temporarily.