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Austin residents can now vote on Proposition B, which would reinstate a city ban on camping, sitting, lying and other activities in certain public places. City Council overturned the ban in 2019 after a successful campaign by advocates, who argued that it criminalized homelessness.
Since then, however, the city's homeless population has grown, both in size and visibility, prompting concerns from residents, business owners and elected officials about public health and safety. Texas lawmakers are considering a statewide ban on public camping, in a clear rebuke to local policy.
Prop B supporters and opponents agree that homelessness has reached crisis status in Austin, but they also acknowledge the ban will do little to address the root causes of homelessness. So who is homeless in Austin, and why?
The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a local nonprofit, conducts a homeless census, called the point-in-time count, each January. This year's count was canceled due to pandemic concerns; the 2020 count found a nearly 45% increase in the local unsheltered homeless population compared to 2019 count, which ECHO attributed to a 39% increase in volunteers, among other factors.
Chris Harris, director of Texas Appleseed's Criminal Justice Project and an activist who helped overturn the camping ban, attributed this growth to rising housing costs in Austin and the pandemic recession. "There are really good reasons for it to go up," he told Austonia.
The point-in-time count helps identify trends but is considered an undercount. National consultants hired by the city of Austin estimate that 10,350 people in Austin-Travis County—around 1% of the total county population—experienced homelessness over the course of Fiscal Year 2020, according to a July 2020 report. Austin ISD estimates nearly 2,000 of its enrolled students experienced homelessness in the 2018-19 school year.
ECHO's Point-in-Time count data provides some indication of disparities in the local homeless population. For example, Black individuals are significantly overrepresented, making up around 9% of the Travis County population but more than 36% of the 2020 Austin-Travis County homeless population. Similarly, veterans account for around 4% of the county population but more than 10% of the homeless population.
The root causes of homelessness are harder to pin down.
There are individual factors, such as severe mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and poverty. Youth may become homeless when they age out of foster care or are thrown out of their homes.
A used syringe found on the ground at a homeless encampment under an overpass in South Austin near the Westgate shopping center. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
Substance use is both a cause and a result of homelessness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that around 18% of homeless Texans are severely mentally ill, 12% are chronic substance abusers and 11% are victims of domestic violence, according to 2020 point-in-time count data. Up-to-date data on substance use is sparse, but a 1996 national survey of homeless assistance providers and clients found that more than 80% of chronically homeless individual has experienced lifetime alcohol and drug problems.
Experts point to myriad systemic reasons for the increasing number of homeless people across the U.S., including:
- urban renewal, during which affordable housing was destroyed
- the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients in the mid-20th century
- disinvestment in public housing and other welfare programs starting in the Reagan administration
- mass incarceration, which leaves many with criminal records that limit job and housing access
- drug epidemics
- increasingly expensive medical care
- widening income inequality
- rising housing costs
A minimum wage worker in the Austin metro would have to work 156 hours a week to afford a market-rate, one-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. There are 168 hours in a week; at $7.25 an hour, this work schedule would leave no money left over for other expenses.
In the last few months, the city of Austin has ramped up its response to homelessness, using federal COVID relief dollars to provide short-term rental assistance to more than 400 homeless residents; purchasing hotels that will provide permanent supportive 140 housing units for chronically homeless individuals, despite pushback; and passing the HEAL initiative, which aims to connect around 100 homeless camp residents to housing.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a local nonprofit, also recently announced a major expansion of Community First! Village, a master-planned community that is home to more than 220 formerly chronically homeless residents. Starting next summer, the village will grow to add 1,400 additional residences.
"There is no shortage of pressure to address this crisis, and the pressure has existed—and should have—long before the ballot initiative was even on the horizon," Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said during a press conference earlier this month.
Despite this pressure, the city's homelessness response remains underfunded. "We are far, far under-resourced to address the issue adequately," Grey said. "So the idea that, because we have spent or extended resources in response to this problem and it is not gone, I think, is a real logical fallacy."
This story was updated on April 21 to include context for the year-over-year increase in unsheltered homelessness detailed in the 2020 Point-in-Time count.
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A week after Texas added two congressional seats and California lost one, state officials reported a population decline in 2020 for the first time in the Golden State's history.
California fell by over 182,000 people from January 2020 to January 2021, dropping almost 0.5% to cap out at around 39.5 million people. It is still the nation's most populous state.
For over thirty years, California has seen more people leave than move in from other states, state officials said, with 6.1 million people moving out and 4.9 million coming in last year. Immigration and births kept California growing, but the state saw a shrink in international migration in 2020 due to COVID and the White House's hold on visas.
Of the steady flow of ex-Californians moving to other states, more are moving to Texas than any other state. Many are relocating to Austin, which has been labeled a "little California" by billionaire resident Elon Musk and continues to grow astronomically.
Meanwhile, California cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco saw a population decline.
With immigration and state migration on the decline, the Golden State was also hit with a spike in deaths- 51,000 people died from COVID in 2020, and all but seven of the state's counties saw death rates higher than the three-year average.
Still, the California Department of Finance said a "slightly positive annual growth" can be expected next year as the state recovers from COVID deaths and political repercussions.
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- 1 1/2 oz of hibiscus-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 2 oz sparkling water
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 3/4 oz simple syrup
- 1 tsp allspice dram
The sun is out, and thousands of Austin FC fans will be as well as Austin FC goes to Kansas to play Sporting Kansas City at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
There's plenty of pub partners to choose from, but here's a few watch parties to help you get in on the action.
Los Verdes watch party at Hopsquad Brewing, 2307 Kramer Lane
Fun fact: @LosVerdesATX brings sleeping bags and they basically live in the grain room between games. They'll emerge from time to time for a cup of coffee and to see if the #verde keeper kit has been released. pic.twitter.com/6HKUEHUFWY— Hopsquad Brewing Co. (@HopsquadBrewing) May 3, 2021
Ol' faithful: Hopsquad Brewing is hosting its weekly watch party, complete with beer, food trucks and the possible release of a new michelada, in partnership with Austin FC fan club Los Verdes. Admission is free, but make sure to bring a lawn chair so you can watch from the brand-new LED screen.
Austin Anthem North at 601 Whitestone Blvd, Cedar Park
Live up North? Looking for a place to catch the match? Join Us this Sunday.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 7, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🍺 $1 off pints with @AustinFC gear and #verde Beer
🌮 Van's Damn Tasty Tacos & Ronburguesas $6 Fried Tots pic.twitter.com/zHRp4H2MIQ
Austin Anthem's 1,000+ audience at watch parties have been legendary, but they're splitting the group into two this week. The North Watch party will be located at Whitestone Brewery, with $1 off discounts if you bring Austin Anthem's signature beer or wear Verde. Tater tots and tacos will be on the menu. RSVP here.
Austin Anthem East at Haymaker, 2301 Manor Road
This week’s beer-storming also brings #LosZanates back to where much of the #AustinFC supporter movement was formed: @HaymakerAustin.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 4, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🐻 2310 Manor Rd
The #Verde watch parties for all of #Austin. Join us!https://t.co/EdiBruetIG pic.twitter.com/7NYsEFLxCf
Austin Anthem is returning to its roots at Haymaker Austin, where much of the group originated. Beer, sandwiches and more will be on the menu for all of East Austin. RSVP here.
Head to a bar near you
If none of these watch parties are quite the right fit for you, 31 bars will be streaming the match in the Austin metro as part of the Austin FC Pub Club.
- Austin Eastciders- Barton Springs, 1530 Barton Springs Rd.
- Austin Eastciders- Collaboratory 979 Springdale Rd. Suite 130
- B.D. Riley's Mueller, 1905 Aldrich St. Unit 130
- The Bon Aire, 9070 Research Blvd
- Bouldin Acres, 2027 S Lamar Blvd
- Casa Chapala, 9041 Research Blvd Suite 100
- The Cavalier, 2400 Webberville Rd Unit A
- Cover 2,13701 N Highway 183
- Cover 3 Anderson Lane, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 202
- Happy Chicks, 214 E 6th St.
- Haymaker, 2310 Manor Rd.
- High Five- Anderson Ln, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 101
- Local Post Pub, 7113 Burnet Rd
- Pelons, 802 Red River St
- Play on 6th, 620 W 6th St
- Pluckers, various locations
- Revelry On The Boulevard, 6215 N Lamar Blvd
- Revelry- East 6th, 1410 E 6th St
- Rusty Cannon Pub, 730 W Stassney Ln Unit 120
- San Jac Saloon, 300 E 6th Street
- Shiner's Saloon, 422 Congress Ave Unit D
- Shooters Billiards 620, 11416 N FM 620
- Taco Flats, mulitple locations
- Twin Peaks, 701 E Stassney Ln
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