photo by Charlie L. Harper III

A homeless camp under I-35 at 7th Street on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, as sparse traffic travels overhead during what would, in normal times, be Austin rush hour. (Charlie Harper III)

Fifteen years ago when Peter Zandan would come out with an Austin poll, we would assign it to two of our very best journalists—Marie Henson and Bill Bishop—and display the resulting articles on the Austin American-Statesman's Sunday front page.

A big deal.

This year, the "Zandan Poll, Voices of the Austin Community," didn't get much press. Yet results of the 2020 poll are very striking—and tell us so much about how our great city is changing.

Here's what I found most startling:


Zandan asked: Which one of the following do you consider the top thing Austin has GAINED due to its growth over the past five years?

An overwhelming 38% of respondents said "larger homeless population." In 2017, when Zandan took the last Austin poll, homelessness was so far below the radar that he didn't even include the choice in his list of possible responses. The other leading choices he provided, in 2017 and in 2020, were: "strong economy," which declined from 20% in 2017 to 15% in 2020; creation of new jobs, down from 19% to 15%; big city feel, dropping from 14% to 9%; and racial and ethnic diversity, falling from 13% to 6%. Again, these were presented as "GAINS due to growth…'

"Homelessness just stands out as a defining issue when people think of Austin," Zandan told me in an interview. We will be interested in what the mayor and city council think of these numbers.

After talking with a person familiar with events, who declined to be identified because his work involves dealing with city leaders, I'll take a stab at what happened. In June 2019, the Austin City Council voted to allow the homeless to sit, lie and camp in public. Almost overnight, the homeless appeared. The suddenness was startling. The mayor and council had not prepared citizens for the change. And, in Zandan's data, we see the results.

After I left the Statesman, I worked at Public Strategies, Inc., Austin's premier strategic consulting company, from 2009-2012. PSI later merged with Hill & Knowlton as H+K Strategies Inc., led through those times by founder Jack Martin. Zandan was my colleague at the firm back then, and still works for H+K.

But Zandan pays for this poll on his own nickel, as a service to the Austin community.

A note on methodology: Cambia Information Group interviewed 801 people, drawn from the entire Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Interviewing was conducted between Feb. 17 and March 5.

Next: Is Austin on the right track or the wrong track? Austin-area residents speak, and clearly.
(Austonia staff)

The University of Texas-Austin continued its march toward a new normal on Friday, as university President Gregory Fenves marked his last day of leadership after five years in office—the final two months of it dominated by sweeping pandemic-era changes on campus.

Keep Reading Show less
(Tito's Handmade Vodka)

Sponsored by Tito's Handmade Vodka

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Tito's Handmade Vodka
  • 4 oz. lemonade
  • 3 blueberries, garnish
  • 2 strawberries, garnish
  • 1 lemon slice, garnish

Directions: Just add Tito's Handmade Vodka, lemonade, and berries to a glass with ice. Stir and garnish with a lemon slice.

(Charlie L. Harper III)

At least two protests are planned in Austin this weekend over the recent killings of black men by police: Mike Ramos, who was fatally shot by an Austin Police Department officer on April 24 in Southeast Austin, and George Floyd, who died in police custody on Monday after a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on his neck. Both events were filmed.

Keep Reading Show less
Select city services—including some pools, libraries and the Austin Animal Shelter—will reopen starting Monday.
Keep Reading Show less

As Texas navigates reopening restaurants and bars safely, al fresco spots provide the perfect place for long-quarantined Austin residents. Some of these favorites are open only on the patio, others are allowing customers to eat to-go orders in the space, and a few are full service—the details are subject to change. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here they are, in no particular order:

1. Perla's

Upscale seafood fare is served under striped umbrellas on the tree-lined porch, with dogs allowed and an unfettered view of South Congress foot traffic.

Address: 1400 S. Congress Ave.

(Charlie L. Harper III)

Keep Reading Show less
(Central Texas Food Bank)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Austin, the Central Texas Food Bank has seen a tenfold increase in food costs.

Keep Reading Show less