Nearly 28,000 people have viewed a four-minute YouTube video about "massive problems"—including trash, drug use, fires and human waste behind backyard fences—caused by a homeless encampment in Austin's Windsor Park neighborhood.
Massive problems in the Windsor Park creek www.youtube.com
Kevin Ludlow, a Windsor Park resident and former Libertarian candidate for the Texas House, filmed the growing encampment over several months. He compiled the video, titled "Massive problems in the Windsor Park creek," to share on a private neighborhood Facebook group.
Shortly after it was posted on Sunday, someone shared it on Reddit, where it has garnered more than 1,400 comments.
Ludlow said he posted the video after spending months speaking with people who live in the encampment and filming its expansion.
Although he sympathizes with their plight, Ludlow said, he also worries about violence and other risky behaviors.
A fire in the encampment on June 21 that could have damaged the neighboring homes had it been allowed to spread, he said, and the recent killing of a 58-year-old woman on nearby East 51st Street on July 20 also concerns him. Austin police arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the killing, which happened at night outside her apartment, but did not describe a motive.
The video also shows a growing collection of trash, syringes and feces, which Ludlow said runs into the backyards of the mid-Austin neighborhood east of I-35.
"For as much sympathy as I have for the people who are out there, surely we shouldn't be subjected to having thousands of pounds of human excrement dumped on our property," he said.
Ludlow said more should be done to address the issue, though he recognizes the city faces challenges.
"I think they want to do something," he said. "I just don't think they have a tenable solution that's available to them."
In search of a solution
Austin residents facing issues related to encampments are encouraged to call the nonemergency 311 line. Due to the pandemic, however, the city has implemented a moratorium on clean-up efforts.
The city's watershed protection department, which last cleaned the encampment in Windsor Park in early March, plans to go to the council next month to secure funding for an emergency contract, which would allow its staff to resume cleanups with new COVID protocols, a spokesperson wrote in an email to Austonia.
The Windsor Park Neighborhood Association plans to discuss solutions at a meeting this Saturday, which was planned before Ludlow's video was shared.
"I've been here for 18 years," the group's president, Dan Strub, told Austonia. "[The encampment] goes back as far as I can remember."
While the encampment has grown in the last year or two, Strub said, residents are reluctant to call the police "about much of anything that isn't directly crime-related these days."
The Windsor Park encampment sits on public property - along Little Tannehill Branch Creek, between Broadmoor Drive and 52nd Street, Strub said.
There is little that city officials or police can do to force campers elsewhere for now. Last year, the Austin City Council abolished the city's ban on public camping, but a petition aimed at reinstating the ban received 24,000 signatures and may lead to a referendum in November.
On Tuesday, a consultant hired to study the city's homeless problem told the Austin City Council that punitive measures like encampment sweeps are ineffective and should be replaced with more trash pick-ups and on-site safe-needle exchanges.
While not everyone agrees on allowing public camping, Strub said, he believes the neighbors are interested in helping the homeless community rather than penalizing it.
"I think there are a lot of folks in this neighborhood who are very sympathetic to that view," Strub said.
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