Whittling down from 70-plus possible options for sanctioned homeless camps, city of Austin staff recommended two sites for further review late Monday.
The two sites are city-owned, public transit accessible and meet most of the criteria put forward by council members, according to a recent memo. One site is located near the Mueller development in Northeast Austin, while the other is in Southwest Austin off of MoPac. They will require rezoning to allow for the installation of micro shelters that can house people on site.
Northeast Austin site
The recommended site at 3511 Manor Road in District 1 on the East side is close to the Mueller development, which offers retail amenities, as well as bus lines and the public trails. It also offers a front entrance that could provide effective site control and up to 20 covered parking spaces, which could serve homeless people living in their cars. There are some challenges associated with the site, however, including wildfire risk and an existing structure that is unusable due to a material asbestos used.
(City of Austin)
Southwest Austin site
The other recommended site at 4011 Convict Hill Road in District 8 in Southwest Austin also offers access to amenities and bus lines within a 15-minute walk as well as space for portable restrooms and showers. Its challenges include fire mitigation requirements and its distance from the city center.
Reimplenting the camping ban
Council revisited the idea of sanctioned camps in May after city voters approved Proposition B, which reinstated a local ban on public camping, among other activities. But when staff presented 45 potential site options later that month, members pushed back, citing concerns about cost, lack of transparency and wildfire risk.
The city moved ahead with a multi-phase Prop B reimplementation plan, prompting concerns that homeless residents were being forced out of camps with nowhere else to go legally or safely.
Phase 3 of the plan began on July 11, with Austin police able to make arrests in situations where homeless people refuse to vacate camps deemed dangerous, such as those in flood-prone areas or near busy roads.
Although police officials have stressed that their goal is voluntary compliance rather than arrest, there isn't enough shelter capacity or transitional housing supply to meet current demand.
"(W)e want to be clear with the community that while we are investing in additional crisis beds, like so many other cities working to actively end chronic homelessness, there will not be enough immediate shelter for all unsheltered Austinites," Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said in a July 14 press release.
Staff will brief council about the two recommended sanctioned campsites at a work session next week and could begin to gather stakeholder feedback related to the properties next month, including community meetings.
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Austin has added 24-hour security to the city-owned Pecan Gardens property, which will be converted into supportive housing for people exiting homelessness, after the former hotel was found with months of damage and vandalism May 5.
The building, which was broken into and stripped of copper and had people illegally sleeping inside of it, has been secured, Kelly said in a Friday press conference. Kelly said the city confirmed a measure to implement 24-hour security, including updates every 60 days until the property opens up as supportive housing.
"We cannot let this happen to any vacant city-owned property ever again," Kelly said. "This blatant act of disregard and criminal behavior will not be tolerated in our community."
The city bought the former hotel in August 2021 for $9.5 million with plans to renovate the property into a 78-unit supportive housing property. Those 55 or older that are experiencing chronic homelessness can qualify to live at the site once it is completed in late 2022-early 2023.
While the council was set to discuss a $4 million deal with Family Eldercare to begin converting the property Thursday, Kelly pulled the item for a later executive session due to security concerns. But the council did approve an item to authorize city leaders to begin negotiating other renovation contracts.
"I want to thank my colleagues for pumping the brakes on this contract and realizing that we owe the community not only an apology, but reassurance that the protection of the assets the city owns is vital to the success of achieving our intended goals," Kelly said.
When the building was found vandalized May 5, Kelly, who presides over the district containing the property, said damage included:
- Damage spanning all three floors of the building and is in nearly every room.
- The entire hotel was stripped of copper.
- Destroyed washers, dryers, air conditioners and electrical wiring.
- People sleeping at the hotel without permission.
On Tuesday, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray apologized and said there was no security due to a delay in processing the request.
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The claim came from a flight attendant who worked as a cabin crew member on a contract basis for the company’s corporate jet fleet. Insider reports that she accused Musk of exposing his erect penis to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offering to buy her a horse in exchange for an erotic massage.
The alleged 2016 incident is described in a declaration signed by a friend of the worker and prepared in support of the claim.
The misconduct happened during a flight to London when Musk allegedly asked the attendant to come to his room for a full body massage. When she arrived, Musk was naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body. Later on, Musk touched her and said he’d buy her a horse if she would “do more,” Insider reports the declaration saying. She declined and continued the massage.
Shortly after, the friend says the attendant told her about it and was “visibly shaken.”
In 2018, the attendant reportedly felt that by declining Musk’s proposal, her opportunities at SpaceX were diminished.
She hired a California employment lawyer and sent a complaint to the company’s human resources department. The complaint was resolved after a mediator session when SpaceX, Musk and the attendant entered into a severance agreement where the attendant received $250,000 for promising not to sue over the claims.
It also included non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses barring the attendant from discussing the payment or disclosing information about Musk and his businesses. The attendant declined to comment for Insider’s story.
Musk is currently in a bid to acquire Twitter. Today, he posted that Insider published the story to interfere with the deal.
SpaceX is headquartered in California and has key operations in South Texas with Starbase, a rocket production facility and test site.
The company has previously seen allegations of sexual harassment with four women speaking out in December last year. And at Tesla, where Musk is also CEO and recently celebrated the grand opening of Giga Texas in southeast Travis County, at least six women have sued the company, alleging sexual harassment.
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