Behind a white picket fence, David, 58, has made a home for himself.
There is turf on the ground, a grill station with sesame oil, a large "Trump 2020" sign and multiple tents.
"I probably have it better than anyone here," he said of the state-run campsite, off of Hwy. 183 near Montopolis, where he has lived since January.
Tucked off the side of the frontage road, the site is long and narrow, with dozens of plots set up in rows. Some have a sandbag infrastructure, others are covered with tarps to provide privacy and shade.
Overhead, airplanes descend en route to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which is nearby.
David has lived at the state-run campsite in Southeast Austin since January.(Jordan Vonderhaar)
David, who didn't give his last name, said he arrived at the camp in January, after spending 11 months living at the Salvation Army shelter downtown. Before that, he was "basically vacationing" in Mexico for two years, after losing his job as an insulation supervisor in the oil and gas industry.
Without a salary, and with a monthly child support payment of $2,780 to "little missy in Westlake," David said he couldn't afford housing—and doesn't expect he will be able to any time soon.
After maxing out his time in the shelter, David moved to the state-run campsite because of the 24-hour security provided by the Texas Department of Safety and FEMA.
"I don't talk to my neighbors," he said, adding that he disapproves of the drug use on site and has called the police a few times. "I have nothing in common with these people, other than being homeless."
In June 2019, Austin City Council rolled back three ordinances that had prohibited sitting, lying and camping in public places and nighttime panhandling. Advocates said the move was a crucial step in decriminalizing homelessness.
But many others—including local business owners, the Austin Police Association and residents—opposed the decision, which they argued did not address the root causes of homelessness and would threaten public health and safety.
With the camping ban overturned, Austin's homeless population became more visible.
The point-in-time count, an annual census conducted by the Ending Community Homeless 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.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott condemned city leadership on his personal Twitter account and shared misleading information that he attributed to "Austin's policy of lawlessness."
He ordered the Texas Department of Transportation to conduct sweeps of homeless camps under state highways last October. The next month, the state opened its campsite on a seven-acre TxDOT maintenance yard, where David now lives.
When a series of violent crimes were committed by homeless residents early this year, including a fatal stabbing at a South Congress burrito restaurant, Abbott blamed Austin's homelessness polices and ordered state police to increase patrols around downtown and the University of Texas campus.
Some local officials, including Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, criticized Abbott's response as politicized.
Most violent crimes involving a homeless suspect have a homeless victim, Austin Police Department assistant chief Joe Chacon told City Council in February
"The correct message …. when we're looking at our violent crime incidents, especially in the downtown area, is that a small minority of them involve an individual experiencing homelessness," he said.
William Plumbley has lived in the homeless encampment across from the Central Market on South Lamar Boulevard—known as the Breezeway—for three-and-a-half years, longer than any of the current residents.
"The (decision to overturn the) camping ban was a really, really good step," he said.
Since the council vote, Plumbley said it is easier for him to make his home in the Breezeway, which he likes because the bridge overhead provides a "kind of semi-shelter."
Although he said the clean-ups, orchestrated by city departments, can be destructive, they help keep rats—and related issues, like a recent bacterial staph outbreak—at bay.
William Plumbley sits outside his tent at the "Breezeway" homeless camp in Southeast Austin.(Jordan Vonderhaar)
But Plumbley does not appreciate the political back-and-forth set off by the council's decision.
"It feels like the homeless population has been manipulated for political purposes," he said.
Plumbley's soft-spoken neighbor, John Volloy, has lived in the camp for three years, where he is known as the "Godfather" for his peacekeeping skills. He echoed Plumbley's assessment, saying that, once the governor got involved, drivers started honking, throwing bottles and yelling while passing the camp.
Still, Volloy has no plans to leave. There are water stations and violet-colored trash bins that the city collects at other camps nearby. But he prefers the Breezeway, which provides the cover of an overpass and decent water drainage when it rains, which helps minimize mosquitoes. He also has plenty of space to operate his bike workshop, where he repairs salvaged frames.
"I'm going to stay no matter what," he said.
COVID and cleanups
After the city overturned the camping ban and the governor's intervention, there was a lot of attention—from the media, business owners and residents—paid to how Austin would address homelessness.
In addition to opening five ProLodges at area motels for homeless residents needing to recuperate from COVID-19, the city of Austin also increased its distribution of water stations, porta-potties and other resources to camps around town.
More recently, amid complaints from Austinites who live near some of the homeless camps, the city has resumed cleanups.
A resident of a homeless encampment on East Riverside Drive strung up the trees with toilet paper. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
But many feel the city's response is inadequate.
Nearly 20,000 people signed a petition circulated by the local nonprofit Save Austin Now calling for the city to reinstate its ban on public camping. Although the Austin City Clerk ruled in August that the petition did not have enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot, it was not without support.
That same month, Kevin Ludlow, who lives in the Windsor Park neighborhood, began posting a series of video updates on the homeless camp that abuts his backyard and extends along Little Tannehill Branch Creek. After his first video, which he shared on Aug. 2, garnered tens of thousands of views, the city sent a crew of workers to clean up the camp, but Ludlow said it was a short-term fix as homeless folks have started to reside in the same area once again.
This week, two Austin City Council members, District 6's Jimmy Flannigan and District 10's Alison Alter, faced re-election. Despite earning the most votes in their respective races, neither reached the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff. Both will face conservative challengers whose platforms include reinstating the camping ban on Dec. 15.
Kimberley Piper lives at a camp across the street from the Westgate park-and-ride. 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. Her father, John, was sitting on a pop-up chair nearby, visiting her for the morning. He said she needs to find public housing where she can live alone.
Kimberley Piper, who lives at an underpass camp near the Westgate park-and-ride, receives a visit from her father, John, who lives in an apartment nearby.(Jordan Vonderhaar)
Although Piper appreciates some of the newer amenities, including the water station and trash cans, she is distressed by the drug use, violence and more frequent cleanups. In the most recent sweep, which she said had occurred a week prior, the workers ruined the small flower garden she had planted near her two-tent campsite. A small circle of rocks and some fragile looking sprouts survived.
But for other members of the city's homeless population, not much has changed over the course of the last year, despite the pandemic and the policy changes.
Robert has been homeless since the mid-1980s. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
Robert, who has lived at a camp near the Terrazas Branch library on East Cesar Chavez Street for about a year and been homeless since 1984, said none of the residents had contracted COVID.
Some of his neighbors are waiting to be placed in public housing, but not Robert, who has no plans to move elsewhere.
"My body has adapted to everything that's come my way," he said.
- Homeless community now has a place to store their belongings with ... ›
- Report urges "more humane" approaches to Austin homeless ... ›
- No homeless public camping vote on November ballot for Austin ... ›
- Crews clean up trash, needles and human waste at Austin homeless ... ›
- Save Austin Now sues city of Austin over camping ban petition - austonia ›
- Austin's homeless shelters weather the holidays—and COVID - austonia ›
The holiday season is the most wonderful time of year; Christmas trees, Thanksgiving feasts, good will toward men and holiday movies never cease to warm up the coldest season. However, no matter how wonderful it is, it's also a very wasteful time of year. Tinsel, paper snowflakes, single-use wrapping paper, excess food, Amazon boxes and cranking up the heat have an impact on the planet.
Thrift shopping<div id="0956c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8b3284819cbb57ce57675e3b025b7c6f"><blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="4" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"> <div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"> </div></div><p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BEbsgF7Q2dc/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top"></a></p> </div></blockquote></div><p>Thrift shopping sometimes gets a bad rep despite being one of the most eco-friendly ways to buy your goods. There are even different kinds of thrift stores, consignments stores and markets to suit your needs. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, only about <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/stories/thrift-store-day.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CAccording%20to%20America's%20Research%20Group,it's%20about%2012%20%2D%2015%25." target="_blank">16-18% of Americans</a> shop at a thrift store at least once per year.<br></p><p>There are thrift stores by the dozen for every type of need in Austin: visit Goodwill Blue Hanger on 6505 Burleson Road, which sells clothes by the pound for the most bang for your buck; visit Thrift Town on 5700 Manchaca Road for a wide selection, or if uniqueness is what you're after, visit St. Vincent de Paul on 900 W. Braker Lane.</p>Or, visit Revival Vintage on 100 N Loop Blvd for an upscale thrifted gift—because used ≠ not giftable!
Grocery shopping<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDgyNzcxNC9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTY2MDk2MX0.EgX4mpEFlTjuzdvH7TEd1MT2qBRdhsfiMMlyQg3dbsw/img.gif?width=980" id="bd332" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f90a083390dabc1a7e399866c5742c9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Upcycling<blockquote class="tiktok-embed" cite="https://www.tiktok.com/@blondesigns/video/6871263385653267717" data-video-id="6871263385653267717" style="max-width: 605px;min-width: 325px;" > <section> <a target="_blank" title="@blondesigns" href="https://www.tiktok.com/@blondesigns">@blondesigns</a> <p>Reply to @valeriemwood I’m getting Anthropologie vibes from the finished product!🌿 <a title="homedecor" target="_blank" href="https://www.tiktok.com/tag/homedecor">#homedecor</a> <a title="thriftflip" target="_blank" href="https://www.tiktok.com/tag/thriftflip">#thriftflip</a> <a title="trashtocash" target="_blank" href="https://www.tiktok.com/tag/trashtocash">#trashtocash</a> <a title="showyourage" target="_blank" href="https://www.tiktok.com/tag/showyourage">#ShowYourAge</a></p> <a target="_blank" title="♬ original sound - Annika🌈" href="https://www.tiktok.com/music/original-sound-6871263274097249029">♬ original sound - Annika🌈</a> </section> </blockquote> <script async src="https://www.tiktok.com/embed.js"></script><p>Upcycling allows you to take otherwise useless products and make them into something new, without creating new waste. The process can be done with just about anything—clothes, furniture, scraps or even garbage—if you're crafty enough. The City of Austin holds <a href="https://www.austintexas.gov/fixit" target="_blank">fix-it clinics</a> to teach how to repair basic household objects, which is a must in the home improvement sphere.<br></p>If you're not confident in your artistic abilities, there are plenty of <a href="https://www.etsy.com/market/austin_upcycle" target="_blank">Austin artists</a> who sell upcycled gifts
Donate your used items<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDgyNzcyMy9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTA2Nzg3Mn0.jvcBzLJ2RrU7z9CUq_lDnLMFGWy9CG2BZcgFHCFoTUc/img.gif?width=980" id="a1412" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6329195fe36c5145551b4d3575b71c2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Give an experience as a gift this year<div id="6110c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e7e600163942eed76962724a679982ff"><blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="4" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"> <div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"> </div></div><p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CH6L5OkF9GY/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top"></a></p> </div></blockquote></div><p>When you give an experience as a gift, the possibilities are endless and the waste is much lower. After all, an experience will last forever in your loved one's memory. If your loved one likes to kayak, get them a one year rental pass on Ladybird Lake. Take your daredevil indoor skydiving at iFly, get them an annual pass to their favorite museum, take them on an <a href="https://www.austinbiplane.com/" target="_blank">Austin Biplane tour</a> or even <a href="https://www.k1speed.com/austin-location/pricing.html" target="_blank">race car driving</a>.<br></p><p>Whatever you do for your holiday season this year, why not try to make it just a little bit greener. Mother Nature will thank you.</p>
- How risky are your holiday plans this year? - austonia ›
- Zilker Park Holiday Tree installed, park closes for trail of lights ... ›
- CDC guidelines for holidays in 2020 - austonia ›
Normally, the Sacred Springs Powwow draws a crowd of thousands to San Marcos, where it is hosted each year by the Indigenous Cultures Institute.
But this year's event, like so many others, occurred online. Sixty Native American dancers competed via streamed performances on Saturday, and vendors, singers and storytellers submitted videos for the audience to view at their leisure.
- Coronavirus cases migrate south and east as predicted, but ... ›
- Austin Mayor Adler gives speech on COVID, homelessness policing ... ›
- Everything we know about COVID-19 in Austin right now - austonia ›
In a year that slowed industry professionals down, Black Pumas are putting the Austin music scene back on the map by boasting three 2021 Grammy nominations on Tuesday.
- A Night for Austin: Willie Nelson headlines benefit concert - austonia ›
- Austin City Limits, or ACL, releases virtual lineup - austonia ›
Two Austin City Council races—in Districts 6 and 10—are headed to a runoff election on Dec. 15. The city of Austin and the league of Women Voters Austin Area are co-hosting candidate forums for each race, both of which see an incumbent facing a conservative opponent.
- Early voting: Alison Alter leads in crowded race for Austin City ... ›
- Jimmy Flannigan leads in the Austin City Council District 6 race ... ›
- Austin City Council challengers get big bucks boost - austonia ›
A North Austin nightclub's grand reopening went off without a hitch Friday. Videos shared by the club showed dozens of patrons dancing in tight packs into the wee hours of the night, with hardly a mask to be seen.
- Travis County judge says bars must remained closed amid COVID ... ›
- New state rule lets bars, taprooms reopen with food trucks - austonia ›
- map of Austin bars converted to restaurants to reopen - austonia ›
Texas State football player Khambrail Winters was killed in a shooting last night in San Marcos.
When Austin Public Health hosted a drive-thru flu shot event earlier this month, the department had two goals: helping Austinites ward off the seasonal flu and practicing vaccine distribution on a mass scale.
"It was a really good opportunity … to test our resources, and it's definitely helping us develop our playbook," Interim Assistant Director for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Cassandra DeLeon told Austonia.
- UT professor played role in Pfizer and Moderna's COVID vaccines ... ›
- Austin company seeks volunteers for COVID vaccine trial - austonia ›
- Everything we know about COVID-19 in Austin right now - austonia ›
- Austin hosts free PPE distribution events in COVID hot spots - austonia ›