Pre-pandemic, homelessness was one of Austin's most pressing issues, and COVID has only exacerbated concerns.
Below Austonia digs into the city's homelessness policies—from hygiene infrastructure to the 2019 decision to overturn a ban on camping—and how it has affected the local population.
In an effort to decriminalize homelessness, Austin City Council voted to overturn a ban on camping in June 2019.
Although advocates applauded the decision, local business owners, the Austin Police Association and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opposed the move, arguing that it did not address the root causes of homelessness and would threaten public health and safety.
Since the ban was overturned, the city's 311 department has reported a marked increase in calls regarding homelessness, based on data obtained by Austonia.
In the year before the council vote, 311 recorded 1,426 homeless service requests.
Since the ban was overturned, the number of calls have nearly quadrupled.
Part of this may be that Austin's homeless population is more visible.
The point-in-time count, an annual census conducted by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition each January, found a 45% increase in the city's unsheltered population this year, which the organization attributed to increased volunteerism and better counting methods.
But others disputed this explanation, including the local nonprofit Save Austin Now, which has campaigned to reinstate the ban.
"Our homeless population is rapidly growing, and this stunning increase proves the homeless camping ordinance is acting as a magnet for homeless individuals to come to Austin," co-founder and Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak wrote in a statement earlier this year.
Then the pandemic arrived—and with it the risk of outbreaks at shelters and camps.
The city established five protective lodges at motels around town where homeless residents can self isolate and convalesce. It also increased its distribution of water stations, porta-potties and other resources to camps around town in an effort to encourage hygienic practices.
More recently, amid complaints from Austinites who live near some of the homeless camps, the city has resumed more regular cleanups.
This month, contractors will clean dozens of camps across town, mostly under highway overpasses.
The city's watershed protection department also performs regular cleanups at camps near riverbeds and creeks. Since the pandemic began in March, the department has cleaned six such sites.
Kyle Carvell, a spokesperson for the city's public works department, said these cleanups are scheduled regularly and are not "unannounced sweeps." Individuals are able to remain at these camps, and their belongings are not thrown out. Instead the city aims to remove trash and debris.
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Austin's first major league team is ready to extend its reach with a new collaborative sports complex The Pitch, an Austin FC destination packed with local food, beverages and Verde fervor is set to open in Northeast Austin in February.
The Pitch, a collaboration between Austin FC and Karlin Real Estate, among other entities, will be located in the 50-acre Parmer Pond District, which already hosts the club's practice facility St. David's Performance Center.
Dubbed a "true destination" for both soccer fans and the community, The Pitch will consist of multilevel shipping containers designed by Mark Odom Studio that will carve out into a 1,200-seat stadium complete with a soccer pitch made of turf, food and beverage options and a five-acre "Parmer Pond" featuring jogging trails.
Made from multilevel shipping containers, The Pitch will include food and a 1,200-seat soccer pitch made from artificial turf. (The Pitch)
“The launch of Karlin’s new food and entertainment experience will greatly enhance the Parmer development while perfectly complimenting St. David’s Performance Center,” Austin FC founder Anthony Precourt said. "The Pitch... will offer a strong variety of food options and gathering spaces for guests who will utilize St. David’s Performance Center and Parmer Field for a variety of events.”
The Pitch project lead Dave Greeley, who helped come up with the concept, is a former president of Austin FC parent company, Two Oak Ventures.
“The vision behind The Pitch at the Parmer Pond District is to be a first-of-its-kind sports, dining and entertainment destination,” said Dave Greeley, The Pitch project lead and Team Orbis president. “This will be an unmatched experience for Parmer Austin tenants, Austin FC and club supporters, and the community."
With its proximity to the practice center, the venture hopes to contribute to the growing "soccer city" of Austin during Austin FC matches and youth games with the Austin FC Academy hosted at the St. David's Performance Center.
The Pitch hopes to converge both community and club interests with Austin FC. (The Pitch)
In addition to the soccer pitch, stadium and pond, The Pitch will provide a foody experience made by the creative team behind Austin staples like Fareground and Easy Tiger. The complex will offer local bites including:
- Ranger Burger, which offers beers and burgers made from highly-coveted Wagyu beef direct from Ranger Cattle in East Austin
- Ga Roti, which merges flavors from Northern Vietnam with the culinary techniques of France to create a unique rotisserie chicken joint
- Taco Flats, a local taco chain serving Mexico City-style tacos, micheladas and more
- Sand Bar, which fulfills its namesake with beauty cocktails, local beers and a sand volleyball court
- Coffee Club, a coffee shop and bakery
- Corner Kick Bar, the soccer-focused main bar of The Pitch complete with "tunes, TVs and (a) beer garden"
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