Austin, TX

The Homeless Burden Hits Home for City Council

Nicole Akers

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Homeless man.Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

Austin, TX--Austin is running out of time to decide what provisions to make for people experiencing homelessness. The City Council called a special meeting to discuss options and find they still have plenty to discuss, but limited time to make decisions.

Locals are challenging Mayor Steve Adler and the city of Austin to Stop the purchase of an empty Candlewood Suites hotel in northwest Austin as a permanent location for homeless housing.

The “Stop Candlewood” group has concerns for nearby business owners and residential communities.

“We earnestly ask Council to explore an infinitely more economical and effective location that could serve three to four times as many people as the Candlewood Suites,” said Rupal Chaudhari, of Stop Candlewood.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell told KXAN he's planning to sue the city if they move ahead with buying the property.

“From the perspective of Williamson County, I just want to say this — we’re going to stand up for our business owners, we’re going to stand up for our community, we’re going to stand up for our citizens,” Gravell said. “The City of Austin should be or would be, well suited to have a conversation, instead of dictating.”

Council Members Pool, Natasha Harper-Madison, Kathie Tovo, Mackenzie Kelly, and Alison Alter, each say they need more details about how federal funding should be spent:

"I need to be able to communicate to my constituents exactly what we’re investing in, what we’re getting, and how it’s different from what we’ve done thus far,” Alter said. “I’m not convinced by the model that I’m better off spending that money in the homeless system versus what I would call prevention.”

Kelly goes on to say:

“I’ve spoken with community members and stakeholders and they, like I do, remain skeptical on the spending without a better understanding of how effective previous spending has been,” Kelly said.

Molly Oak, KVUE reporter tweets from the City Council meeting:

"CM @LesliePoolATX is asking about encampments. She says there are about 3,000 people experiencing homelessness. She asks about the amount of land needed and says, by her math, it's 120 acres of land needed."

And after being at the meeting for a while, Oak noted no significant plan for improvement:

"Council has been meeting since 2:05 pm. I've yet to hear any major discussion about potential for designated encampments, which was supposed to be discussed today. Adler says the meeting can run until 6p. 45 minutes left."

Many council members want to know where the money is going. District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly called for an “external efficiency audit” on all City of Austin spending on homelessness.

Councilmember Ann Kitchen said to CBS Austin:

“I think the questions CM Kelly has are important. I think our community deserves to know what we’ve accomplished and we have accomplished a lot, but it’s difficult to see it all and it needs to be presented in a way people can see.”

The next stage of Proposition B goes into effect next week, which means that people experiencing homelessness can be cited by officers for camping in nondesignated areas.

The concern is also that people have access to public transportation and other resources. As yet, Austin does not have answers to many lingering questions council members have. The city and the Council Members continue to work on solutions to problems people experiencing homelessness are confronted with in this developing story.

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