It's been a year since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott intervened in Austin's homelessness crisis.
Prompted by the City Council's June 2019 decision to overturn a ban on public camping and reports of crime by homeless suspects, Abbott ordered sweeps of camps under state highways and established a state-run campsite in Southeast Austin.
Since then, the camps' residents have faced the COVID-19 pandemic and continued cleanups by both the Texas Department of Transportation and various city agencies.
Here's a look inside the camps.
Many homeless camps in Austin can be found underway highway overpasses, such as this one at I-35 and Montopolis.
John Volloy has lived at a South Austin homeless camp known as the Breezeway for three years and operates a bike workshop there. Although other camps nearby have water stations and trash bins, he prefers the Breezeway, which provides the cover of an overpass and decent water drainage. He has no plans to leave. "I'm going to stay no matter what," he told Austonia.
A makeshift weapon made from a piece of broken glass sits on the ground at a Southeast Austin homeless camp. Most violent crimes involving a homeless suspect have a homeless victim, Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Joe Chacon said earlier this year.
Some residents complained about the drug use at the camps, and syringes like this one littered the ground at many. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition lists lack of affordable healthcare as one of the main causes of homelessness, citing poorly managed substance use and mental health disorders as possible reasons someone may lose a job or housing.
Numerous homeless residents said they get by salvaging items such as donated clothing or old bikes. Here, a resident sleeps in the middle of a makeshift bike workshop at the Breezeway.
The state-run campsite spans across a seven-acre maintenance yard off of Hwy. 183 near Montopolis. Overhead, airplanes descend en route to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which is nearby.
David, 58, moved to the state-run site in January, after spending two years "basically on vacation" in Mexico. Before that, he lost his job in the oil and gas industry.
His setup includes two tents, some turf, a grill station and a white picket fence. He inherited a Trump 2020 sign from one of his neighbors and got ahold of some Joe Biden toilet paper.
There are some vehicle bays near the entrance of the state-run homeless camp in Southeast Austin, which have since been repurposed into living quarters by its residents. Others live in tents, with no shade, toward the back of site.
Kimberley Piper has lived at a homeless camp across from the Westgate park-and-ride for about a month. She became homeless earlier this year, after more than a decade off the streets, when she moved out of her father's apartment nearby. She said he didn't think he needed a caretaker.
Piper has two tents set up, as well as some homey touches, such as a small flower bed surrounded by rocks and a pet fish.
According to some of the camp residents, they must keep their belongings inside their tents or risk losing them in a city or state cleanup.
Robert has been homeless since 1984. He moved to the camp near the Terrazas Branch Library on East Riverside Drive about a year ago. CommUnity Care comes by each week to test residents for COVID-19.
None of the camp's residents have contracted the virus, he said.
At the Riverside camp, a resident strung the trees overhead with toilet paper.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.