Update on Austin’s homeless situation

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Photo by: Shruti Patel

The city of Austin is currently facing a homeless citizens crisis.

Bethany Hanson, Dispatch Reporter

After two recent stabbings in downtown Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott took action by strengthening the security in the downtown area. Starting Monday, January 13, 2020, the Department of Public Safety will be patrolling the area within two blocks of any state building, as well as the Capitol and the University of Texas campus. 

“These crimes add to a growing list of reports of physical assaults and threats, even arson, in areas near the Capitol Complex and The University of Texas at Austin (UT),” wrote Abbott in a letter to Colonel Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. “The attack on Congress Bridge that left one person hospitalized and four women traumatized and the arson attack at the 7- Eleven near UT’s campus are just two instances where people’s lives have been threatened.” 

One of the examples of violence Gov. Abbott uses in his letter to Colonel McCraw refers to the act of arson committed by a homeless man on September 23, 2019, at the 7/11 on the corner of W. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Guadalupe Street, an area University students pass by when going to class and getting around campus.

“Knowing this, I feel uncomfortable walking on Guadalupe alone,” Isabella Poveda, a student at the University of Texas at Austin said. “I choose to not walk without people around me for safety purposes, but it can be inconvenient sometimes.” 

Leanne Simons, who works in the Stephen F. Austin building downtown has had safety issues with the homeless population since the law was enacted. 

“Working in the capitol complex area, [the extra security] makes me feel so much better and safer,” Simons said. “I have had an employee attacked by a homeless person before this ordinance was put into place and I feel better knowing that they may be safer walking to lunch.”

The problem has caused discussion of what might happen in the future, and it has Austin residents questioning what is to come.

“When [my husband] and I visited San Francisco a few years ago,  [he] was accosted by some homeless men,” Simons said. San Francisco has the same ordinance that Austin now has. “The situation is much worse in San Fransisco than it is here… I don’t want that to happen to Austin.”

The ordinance has also affected people who live near an area with a high population of homeless camps in a number of ways. 

“I do not feel as safe around homeless camps as there is real evidence of increased violence from the homeless,” a resident at an apartment complex in south Austin, Tracy Alexander said. “I feel the people are disrespectful of the area.  These camps are trashy and really no place for anyone to be living.”

“There is so much more to be done.  The camping ordinance needs to be put back in place and we need to find solutions for every citizen of Austin TX.”