Austin voters have decided: The city will reinstate a ban on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of downtown, near East Austin and West Campus.
Proposition B, which proposed reinstating the ban and criminalizing the activities it prohibits, passed with 57.7% of the vote. Across Travis, Williamson and Hays counties, all of which include portions of the city of Austin, 220,420 ballots were cast, accounting for around 18.1% of registered voters.
Now that Prop B has passed, it will take effect—likely in the next couple of days—once the results have been certified.
The proposition stemmed from a citizen-led petition organized by the local political action committee Save Austin Now, which was co-founded by Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak and local Democratic advocate Cleo Petricek. The group's supporters argued that Austin City Council's 2019 decision to overturn the ban has led to an increasingly visible homeless population, with tent cities along Lady Bird Lake and the Riverside median that pose public health and safety concerns.
PREDICTION: Prop B (reinstating the public camping ban) will pass 60%-40% tonight in Austin.
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) May 1, 2021
Prop B's passage is "a massive win for every Austinite who simply wants to live in a safe and clean city," Mackowiak tweeted Saturday evening after the early voting numbers were released.
Opponents, some of whom successfully advocated council two years ago to overturn the ban, argue that it does nothing to address homelessness or provide housing and instead leads to criminal citations, which can further disadvantage homeless residents in their search for housing, employment and other resources.
Prop B is inhumane and will lock up unhoused Austinites instead of helping them. Prop B offers no solutions to homelessness and we must now act to protect our unhoused neighbors and offer housing solutions to this crisis. Austin can do better.
— Workers Defense 💪🏽 (@WDActionFund) May 2, 2021
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who led the charge on council to overturn the ban in 2019, does not believe the city is as divided on homelessness policy as the Prop B results may suggest. "We all want to get people out of tents and into homes," he said in an Election Night statement. "Our community must come together after this election and house 3,000 more people because we can only solve homelessness with homes, not handcuffs."
Between 2019 and 2020, the city's homeless population grew around 11%, according to the point-in-time count, an annual census conducted in January by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a local nonprofit. The 2021 count was canceled due to the pandemic.
Although the rate of homelessness in Austin is greater than in other big Texas cities, this growth is in keeping with slight increases across the state in the last few years, Texas Homeless Network President and CEO Eric Samuels recently told Austonia. "We know that people are living behind our greenbelts, people are living in encampments," he said. "Now those people are just more visible, and I think that has caused a lot of the public in Austin to think that homelessness has exploded, when in reality it hasn't. It's just their recognition of homelessness has exploded."
The election period was contentious one.
Mayor Steve Adler urged residents to vote against Prop B on Monday, noting that the early voting turnout thus far had skewed older and more conservative than the city's overall population. Some Prop B supporters took issue with this, arguing that he was being dismissive of certain voters or politicizing Prop B, which Save Austin Now's cofounders have stressed is a bipartisan effort.
The vote count should be representative of the community. So far, those early voting are not. They're much, much older and much, much more Republican. Vote tonight, tomorrow or Saturday. Vote No on Prop B! pic.twitter.com/UnxbWavdUt
— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@MayorAdler) April 26, 2021
State lawmakers are considering a statewide camping ban in response to Austin's changing policy.
Ongoing city efforts to provide housing, including to homeless people living in four designated camps, will continue, city officials have said.
- Texas Senate considers statewide homeless camping ban - austonia ›
- Austin Mayor Steve Adler says camping ban 'is not working' - austonia ›
- Pro vs. con: How should Austin vote on Prop B camping ban ... ›
- How Austinites and businesses will vote on homeless camping ban ... ›
- Save Austin Now relaunches petition to reinstate camping ban ... ›
- Austin begins phased plan to reinstate homeless camping ban - austonia ›
- Austin City Council will review possible homeless camps - austonia ›
- Austin City Council pushes back on sanctioned homeless sites - austonia ›
- Camping ban stage 3: homeless can be arrested but have no where to go - austonia ›
- Phase 4 of Proposition B enforcement begins - austonia ›
- Greg Casar and Matt Mackowiak continue to butt heads in Austin politics - austonia ›
No matter how long you’ve been in Austin, Samuel Grey Horse has probably been here longer than you and the spirit of his indigenous ancestors walked the land far before anyone living did. Born and raised in the capital city in 1961, the city has grown and changed all around him.
You’ve probably seen or heard of Grey Horse before—he’s been called the “Sixth Street Cowboy” due to his penchant for riding his horses through the city streets, dressing up as Santa Claus during the holidays and making national news back in 2011 when he received a DUI while riding his mule down Sixth Street.
“I remember when I could see the capital from anywhere,” Grey Horse told Austonia during a visit to his East Austin ranch. “I never thought or imagined that I would see Austin like this.”
Now, living with his three horses, mule and dogs in East Austin on “the road that time forgot,” Grey Horse lives the “Native” lifestyle; he cares for his horses, tends to his garden, holds sacred prayer ceremonies, writes music, sings with legendary musicians and occasionally films with Richard Linklater, director of "Dazed and Confused."
Just as Austin changed over the years, so too did Grey Horse. On June 26, 2010, he was in an accident that he credits for changing his life. While riding a racing horse, Grey Horse’s saddle came loose and dragged him underneath for 150 yards. By the time they had stopped, Grey Horse had 12 broken ribs, collapsed lungs, a broken neck, broken clavicle, cracked skull, broken wrist and went into a coma.
“I had all the things done to me but that's how the universe teaches you,” Grey Horse said. “They said I would never ride a horse again or walk correctly, but no, I don't live in that world, because where I went to with my coma. I was living in another world, in the other world’s illusion.”
His road to recovery was long, arduous, miraculous and aided by his horses: Big Tex, Big Red and mule Mula, who have all been in his care for well over a decade. Grey Horse said they took care of his “energy” when he needed them most. Despite the pain that ensued from horses, his accident drew the cross-species family together.
Big Red and Mula have been living with Grey Horse for 16 and 14 years, respectively. (Sam Grey Horse/Instagram)
“I ride them around town and share them with everybody because everything has a purpose,” Grey Horse said. “You don't throw something away just because it's a little beat up. I was all beat up.”
The winters are still painful for his joints but he powers through so he can bring joy to the people of Downtown Austin in his Santa Claus costume every year.
“I can't hurt because I'm Santa Claus, and I got to be Santa for the kids and everybody. I give them inspiration and energy, I make millions happy downtown,” Grey Horse said. “I sing often with a cordless mic, my horses dance and they're happy. If I can make one person happy that makes a difference.”
Though it was never his intention, a career in music found Grey Horse and it felt right due to his mother telling him as a child he would be a singer one day. Grey Horse recently returned from his tour with The Greyhounds and Sir Woman across Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
His original song, “Crow Dog,” is a tribute to his life and the people who have passed along their loving energy in it.
Show biz can’t get enough of Grey Horse, who also models for Patagonia and Levi’s; he taught Joe Jonas how to ride a horse for a video shoot. He is now working with a British filmmaker on a documentary, and was featured on episode 10 of Linklater’s “That Animal Rescue Show.”
“I sing with Grammy winners, which is very special to me, and I write songs about my life. Very magical stuff,” Grey Horse said. “(The tour) was one of the best runs we've done for now—people are out and want to get out and the energy the guys bring is amazing.”
You’re certain to see Grey Horse around town if you spend some time near The Continental Club on South Congress or the Texas Capitol into the night. Until then, tok sha.
“There are no words for goodbye in my language, it's 'tok sha,'” Grey Horse said. “It means I’ll see you again. I'll see you soon. I'll see you in the next life.”
- Austin Bergstrom brings live music back to its terminal - austonia ›
- Austin venues are deciding how to stay open despite COVID ... ›
- Austin vs. Nashville: The Live Music Capital of the World and Music ... ›
- Some Austin live music venues reopen to smaller crowds - austonia ›
For women who feel threatened while they’re out, an app that lets users easily call for help is now available in Austin.
Launching in the capital city on Tuesday, SafeUP, works by training users over the age of 18 who are known as “guardians” on how to respond in times of crisis. Those who are placing a call for help are connected to guardians less than half a mile away who, depending on the situation, can chat on the phone or physically go to the user and escort them.
SafeUP allows women to contact others who can help them when in danger. (SafeUP)
First launched in Israel, the app was co-founded by Neta Schreiber, who became interested in safety tools after her friend went missing at a house party about a decade ago.
"My friend and I searched for her in a panic, and, as we headed upstairs, we heard her voice amidst a group of men's voices," Schreiber has stated. "We went into one of the rooms and there they were—the men and our friend, half-naked, fighting them."
The assailants fled once the friends stepped in. "We managed to get there just in time," Schreiber said. "Luck and women saved my friend that night."
Schreiber told Reuters that during the testing phase of SafeUP, two guardians stepping in was enough to have people leave a woman alone.
Earlier this month, SafeUP became active in other major cities including Boston, San Francisco, Miami and New York City. There are more than 70,000 members in the global network with approximately 200 guardians in Austin so far.
Mira Marcus, a spokesperson for SafeUP, told Austonia most users are millennials and younger, and a lot of college students use the app, which made an Austin launch especially fitting. The company also has a partnership with Lime so that guardians can take free rides to reach a person.
SafeUP's partnership with Lime allows users to take free rides to a person calling for help. (SafeUP)
“You could always call the police, but they won’t necessarily be there within a matter of a minute or two. You could always speed dial your mom or girlfriend, but they won’t always be available to answer,” Marcus said. “The idea behind SafeUP is no matter where you are and what time, you can always turn on the app and see on the map the guardians around you.”
The app also allows users to call the police if the guardian finds the situation requires their backup. With that function, the app uses the phone’s camera and microphone to record evidence.
In a somewhat similar fashion, the Austin Police Department discussed possibly issuing a civilians unit to assist with non-emergency crimes over the summer. The discussion came as the department announced it would not respond to 911 calls where there was not a present danger due to a staffing shortage.
Some have turned to personal safety tech as public safety in Austin continues to be a hot topic with a record-breaking number of homicides in the city.
SafeUP joins other tech like the Citizen app and Ring cameras that track crime and include tools for reporting to the police. Some scholars and activists have criticized this tech for potential racial and gender bias, as well as expansion of surveillance. Biometric data is also taken in before users have full access to the SafeUP app so they can be verified as female, though facial recognition systems have a tendency to vary in accuracy.
- Austin ranks more dangerous than Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth ... ›
- Save Austin Now launches petition against crime - austonia ›
- Here's how crime stacks up in Austin's party districts - austonia ›
- Greater Austin Crime Commission - austonia ›
- APD reports increase in violent crime amid defunding push - austonia ›
Giving Tuesday: Dell Foundation gives $38 million to combat homelessness as Austin celebrates 'radical generosity'
It's the most (philanthropic) time of the year, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation added to Central Texas' $100 million Giving Tuesday donations by promising a $38 million commitment towards combatting homelessness in Austin.
The Round Rock-based foundation, headed by tech giant Dell CEO Michael Dell, will donate the lump sum to three local nonprofits: Multiplying Goodness, Foundation Communities and LifeWorks.
Almost all of the funds—$36.6 million—are headed to Multiplying Goodness, which is a capital campaign to grow the Community First! Village in Austin, a neighborhood that offers permanent housing for the homeless. The 51-acre housing development has already rented out tiny homes to 220 formerly homeless residents and has plans to add 1,400 more units with the Multiplying Goodness program headed by Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
Dubbed a "hand up, not hand out" program by Mobile Loaves CEO and Founder Alan Graham, the neighborhood also helps residents with services and resources as they leave homelessness behind.
The Dell foundation is asking the public to match their donation as the "most talked about neighborhood in Austin" looks to reach its $150 million goal. Expansion of the Community First! Village is expected to break ground in 2022.
“As Austin grows, it’s more important than ever that we care for those most vulnerable in our communities,” Dell Foundation's co-founder Susan Dell said in a press release. “By coming together as a community, we can provide those experiencing homelessness in Central Texas with the dignity they deserve through stable housing and the opportunity to experience community again. We are honored to partner with Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Foundation Communities and LifeWorks—along with the broader Central Texas community through our community match—to accelerate the difference these organizations are already making on the ground each day.”
Community First! Village, a 51-acre housing development, currently houses over 200 formerly homeless people. (Community First! Village/Facebook)
The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation also announced a $1 million donation to Foundation Communities as they construct 100 units on the Burleson property at Community First! Village. LifeWorks Austin, a nonprofit aiming to end youth homelessness, will also receive $400,000 as it looks to provide permanent housing for local youth experiencing homelessness.
All three donations will funnel to the greater cause of ending homelessness in Austin, a hot topic in local politics in recent years. Around 3,000 Austinites are currently experiencing homelessness, with nearly 50% described as "chronically homeless." That's 25% above the national average.
Giving Tuesday has seen more than just the Dells digging into their pockets: known as a "global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world," the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has ushered in donations from corporations and private individuals around the world, including $100 million coming to Central Texas nonprofit I Live Here I Give Here.
The nonprofit has become the front for Central Texas' Giving Tuesday campaign. In 2020, Austin businesses, individuals and nonprofits contributed over 20 million acts of generosity during the holiday.
This year, Home Depot surprised small Austin nonprofit Green Doors with a $30,000 donation as they work to combat homelessness.
AppSumo, a leading digital marketplace for entrepreneurs, announced that it will match donations to Future Front Texas, PeopleFund and Swan Impact Network—all Central Texas nonprofits looking to benefit the area's small business owners—from Giving Tuesday through Friday at 5 p.m.
Local philanthropy group Impact Austin awarded $226,200 in grants to four Austin nonprofit organizations on Tuesday as part of their fall giving cycle, while Austin influencer Laura Lux agreed to match any donation under $1,000 given to Austin Pets Alive! on Giving Tuesday.
- Once a foster kid, one Austin-area resident is keeping aging out ... ›
- Austin nonprofit HAAM announces 2020 fundraiser lineup - austonia ›
- Nonprofit seeks to rehumanize Austin's homeless - austonia ›
- John Oliver slams Austin's poor response to homeless crisis - austonia ›
- Austin's homeless population compared to other Texas cities ... ›
- Who is homeless in Austin, and why? - austonia ›