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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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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."