Austin city officials are set to discuss a proposal to partially reinstate the homeless camping ban in four areas around the city.
The Housing-focused Homeless Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL for short, was brought forward last week by City Council Member Ann Kitchen and is co-sponsored by four other council members. The proposal will target areas deemed "dangerous and unhealthy" and provide housing for those camped in those designated areas.
The four locations HEAL lays out as "priority locations" are:
- In Northwest Austin, at an intersection adjacent to significant vehicular and pedestrian traffic
- East Austin, on a sidewalk or public easement adjacent to or leading to a public library
- South Central Austin, at a major intersection under a state highway overpass
- Along a major arterial through the Central Business District
After the council's work session early in the week, the vote is expected to take place on Thursday.
If the vote passes, City Manager Stephen Cronk will return to the council by Feb. 18 with an implementation plan and will have until August to put the first phase of the $3 million plan in place.
Included in this first phase will be finding longer-term solutions and permanent supportive housing and getting the people who camp in the heavily-trafficked areas laid out in the proposal off the streets. The second phase will include fully banning camping in these areas.
Discussion about the HEAL initiative comes just one week after the council approved the purchase of a hotel in North Austin to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness early last week.
Council also delayed voting on the purchase of a second hotel in Northwest Austin after Council Member Mackenzie Kelly asked for an extension to share the news with the public. That vote is scheduled to take place this week.
As Texas gets ready to lift the mandatory mask mandate on March 10, food and bar workers gathered at the Texas Capitol to express their frustration with the lack of COVID-19 precautions without adequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine.The event, which began at 1 p.m. on Monday, was hosted by the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Restaurant Organizing Project and The Amplified Sound Coalition.
Christa McWhirter<p>Crystal Maher, a member of the Restaurant Organizing Project, stands in front of the Texas Capitol to express to other protesters in attendance how not being eligible for a vaccine has impacted her ability to safely keep her job. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Kiara Collins, Eric Santos and Taylor Escamilla are all essential workers who have been questioning their safety in their workplace. As many of the other protesters, the three wore masks with the word "Expendable" on it. According to Collins, they were only given to essential workers in attendance to represent how they have been treated since the onset of COVID-19.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>As Maher continues to introduce speakers, two essential workers who came out to support the protest, record as counter-protesters heckled the event's speakers.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Some of the counter-protesters in attendance were live streamers from InfoWars, an extremist organization, who heckled speakers until the rally dispersed. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>A representative of the Del Valle Community Coalition spoke about the impact the lack of vaccine access has had on the Del Valle area. As she attempted to give her speech, anti-masking protesters yelled at her causing many people to attempt to block them out.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Protesters blocked the way of anti-mask counter protesters as they heckled the event's speakers and held "My Body My Choice" signs. "It's kind of insane how they're using 'my body, my choice.' It doesn't only affect you. So it's not just your body," Taylor Escamilla said.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Jeanette Gregor, cofounder of Amplified Sound Coalition, also had to fend off counter-protesters as she gave an impassioned speech about the danger essential workers place themselves in by going to work and have yet to qualify for COVID-19 vaccine. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Around 2 p.m., State Troopers began to arrive at the Capitol amid heightening tensions from protesters and counter-protesters. As police presence began to increase, the event came to end about 15 minutes later. Despite the constant back and forth between sides and the arrival of law enforcement, the protest came to end peacefully.</p>
The world has changed drastically over the past year, and South by Southwest, one of Austin's most beloved institutions, has, too.
After being abruptly canceled by the city last year, one week before it was set to kick-off due to the increasing understanding of the potential impact of COVID-19, it returns this year in a virtual format March 16-20.
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Austin Public Health will release first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments on a weekly basis starting Monday evening. The specific days and number of appointments made available will depend on the weekly allocation from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Previously, APH released first dose appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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