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Austin voters will decide whether to reinstate a ban on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of the city this Saturday. If Proposition B does not pass, there is a possibility that Texas lawmakers will enact a statewide ban, largely in response to policy changes here in Austin.
Since the City Council overturned the ban in 2019, after a successful advocacy campaign, which argued criminalizing homelessness was inhumane and ineffective, the homeless population has grown locally, both in size and visibility. This is in keeping with slight increases across the state in the last few years, Texas Homeless Network President and CEO Eric Samuels 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."
So how does Austin's homeless population compare to that of other major cities in Texas?
Using data from the point-in-time count, an annual census of local homeless populations, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that the Austin-Travis County region has a rate of around 18 homeless people per 10,000. This is about triple the rate in the greater Houston region and double the state rate. The rate in the Dallas region is 12.5. In the San Antonio-Bexar County area, it's 14.5.
Although the Austin area has a higher rate of homelessness than other big Texas cities, its homeless population has declined significantly in the last decade or so. Between 2007 and 2019, the region's total homeless population decreased by nearly 60%, according to NAEH. The rate in Austin is also notably lower than that of New York (47 per 10,000), California (38 per 10,000) and other states.
These rates are calculated using point-in-time count data. The PIT count is an annual census conducted in January and required of communities that receive federal funding to address homelessness. Because winter weather can vary widely in Texas and the nature of the count, which is conducted by volunteers and intended to be a snapshot, the data can fluctuate. "It's just not a representative sample of the year," Samuels said.
For example, in Austin, the 2020 PIT count found a nearly 45% increase in the local unsheltered homeless population compared to the 2019 count. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a local nonprofit that conducts the count, attributed the change to a 39% increase in volunteers.
Overall, the homeless population grew by around 11% between the 2019 and 2020 counts, according to ECHO. The homeless populations in the Houston region, San Antonio-Bexar County and the state also increased, between 2% and 5%, according to their respective PIT counts and Texas Homeless Network data. Only the Dallas region saw a slight decline, of around 1.4%, during that period.
What's behind this trend? When a Giddings
police officer dropped a homeless man off at the Austin Resource for the Homeless earlier this month, it enforced to some Austinites that the city is attracting homeless people in search of social services or lax regulations. "Statistically speaking, that's all bunk," Samuels said. Nearly two-thirds of homeless Austinites first experienced homelessness here, according to the 2020 PIT count.
The single biggest culprit, Samuels said, is rising housing costs. Median rent in the state of Texas increased by more than 21% between 2010 and 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the city of Austin, it increased nearly 30% during that same period. In Dallas, it grew by around 25%; in Houston and San Antonio, at around the same rate as the state.
Although there are person factors that contribute to homelessness, including untreated mental illness and substance use, Samuels argued that
the systemic reasons—including increasingly unaffordable housing—are more salient. "What's really focused on by the majority of people are the personal, quote, failures rather than the systemic failures because it's much easier to blame the personal than it is to blame the system," he said.
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The sun is out, and thousands of Austin FC fans will be as well as Austin FC goes to Kansas to play Sporting Kansas City at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
There's plenty of pub partners to choose from, but here's a few watch parties to help you get in on the action.
Los Verdes watch party at Hopsquad Brewing, 2307 Kramer Lane
Fun fact: @LosVerdesATX brings sleeping bags and they basically live in the grain room between games. They'll emerge from time to time for a cup of coffee and to see if the #verde keeper kit has been released. pic.twitter.com/6HKUEHUFWY— Hopsquad Brewing Co. (@HopsquadBrewing) May 3, 2021
Ol' faithful: Hopsquad Brewing is hosting its weekly watch party, complete with beer, food trucks and the possible release of a new michelada, in partnership with Austin FC fan club Los Verdes. Admission is free, but make sure to bring a lawn chair so you can watch from the brand-new LED screen.
Austin Anthem North at 601 Whitestone Blvd, Cedar Park
Live up North? Looking for a place to catch the match? Join Us this Sunday.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 7, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🍺 $1 off pints with @AustinFC gear and #verde Beer
🌮 Van's Damn Tasty Tacos & Ronburguesas $6 Fried Tots pic.twitter.com/zHRp4H2MIQ
Austin Anthem's 1,000+ audience at watch parties have been legendary, but they're splitting the group into two this week. The North Watch party will be located at Whitestone Brewery, with $1 off discounts if you bring Austin Anthem's signature beer or wear Verde. Tater tots and tacos will be on the menu. RSVP here.
Austin Anthem East at Haymaker, 2301 Manor Road
This week’s beer-storming also brings #LosZanates back to where much of the #AustinFC supporter movement was formed: @HaymakerAustin.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 4, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🐻 2310 Manor Rd
The #Verde watch parties for all of #Austin. Join us!https://t.co/EdiBruetIG pic.twitter.com/7NYsEFLxCf
Austin Anthem is returning to its roots at Haymaker Austin, where much of the group originated. Beer, sandwiches and more will be on the menu for all of East Austin. RSVP here.
Head to a bar near you
If none of these watch parties are quite the right fit for you, 31 bars will be streaming the match in the Austin metro as part of the Austin FC Pub Club.
- Austin Eastciders- Barton Springs, 1530 Barton Springs Rd.
- Austin Eastciders- Collaboratory 979 Springdale Rd. Suite 130
- B.D. Riley's Mueller, 1905 Aldrich St. Unit 130
- The Bon Aire, 9070 Research Blvd
- Bouldin Acres, 2027 S Lamar Blvd
- Casa Chapala, 9041 Research Blvd Suite 100
- The Cavalier, 2400 Webberville Rd Unit A
- Cover 2,13701 N Highway 183
- Cover 3 Anderson Lane, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 202
- Happy Chicks, 214 E 6th St.
- Haymaker, 2310 Manor Rd.
- High Five- Anderson Ln, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 101
- Local Post Pub, 7113 Burnet Rd
- Pelons, 802 Red River St
- Play on 6th, 620 W 6th St
- Pluckers, various locations
- Revelry On The Boulevard, 6215 N Lamar Blvd
- Revelry- East 6th, 1410 E 6th St
- Rusty Cannon Pub, 730 W Stassney Ln Unit 120
- San Jac Saloon, 300 E 6th Street
- Shiner's Saloon, 422 Congress Ave Unit D
- Shooters Billiards 620, 11416 N FM 620
- Taco Flats, mulitple locations
- Twin Peaks, 701 E Stassney Ln
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- 1 1/2 oz of hibiscus-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
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- 3/4 oz simple syrup
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After Austin voters decisively passed Proposition B, City Council is revisiting the idea of sanctioned encampments: places where homeless residents can camp free from the threat of citation, fines or arrest—and where those will go in the city.
Prop B, which will reinstate city bans on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of central Austin starting Tuesday, passed with nearly 58% of the vote in the May 1 election. Council then voted unanimously on Thursday to direct the city manager to develop a plan and budget for temporary sanctioned encampments, including 10 possible sites, one in each council district, by next week.
Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution, said such sites are critical with the city's emergency shelters and Camp Esperanza, a state-run campsite off of Hwy. 183 near Montopolis, at capacity. "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said Thursday.
The resolution approved Thursday directs city staff to assess all other funding sources before considering those earmarked for affordable housing. Council directed city staff to identify possible city-owned properties that could serve as sanctioned encampments. The dataset below shows properties owned by the city.
Matthew Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, said it is critical that public works funding is used; if housing dollars are reallocated toward sanctioned encampments, it could worsen the city's homeless problem by defunding the one proven solution. "Creating sanctioned encampments… is a public space management strategy," he said. "It is very clearly not a strategy to end homelessness in our community."
Homelessness experts and city staff say sanctioned encampments are problematic for many reasons: they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to be temporary.
Camp Esperanza, the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Southeast Austin, opened in late 2019 and is home to approximate 150 people. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
The Other Ones Foundation, a local nonprofit, operates the camp, providing work opportunities, case management, hygiene and laundry facilities, and a community shelter, among other services. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
In 2019, city staff declined to make recommendations for sanctioned encampments despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
Barbara Poppe, a nationally recognized homelessness policy consultant who has advised the city of Austin, said it is inefficient for cities to provide support services at sanctioned encampments when they could focus on housing efforts. She added that it is also unlikely the city will be able to establish enough sanctioned campsites to serve every homeless person, meaning that some will remain in violation of the ban.
Despite these concerns, council is moving forward with two policies they previously abandoned: the camping ban and sanctioned encampments.
Cleo Petricek, co-founder of Save Austin Now, the local political action committee that spearheaded Prop B, is glad the city is moving forward with sanctioned encampments, which she feels are necessary in addition to ongoing efforts to provide housing support. "Regardless of the long-term strategies, it's long-term," she said. "We are in a humanitarian crisis right now."
Petricek points to the state-run campsite as a successful model and said the city's sanctioned encampments should be in industrial areas, far from schools, parks and residential neighborhoods. "It is undeniable that these (camps) will have an impact on surrounding areas," she said,
citing recent fires and other crime. "We have to expect these worst-case scenarios."
A fire broke out at the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Southeast Austin on April 2. (Austin Fire Info/Twitter)
Homeless services providers argue this approach is inhumane and leaves homeless people isolated from resources. They also warn that, wherever the sanctioned encampments are located, they are likely to prompt pushback. Petricek, a local Democratic advocate, successfully organized a petition in opposition to a proposed homeless shelter in South Austin, near her home, in 2019. The city's recent hotel purchases, for conversion into homeless housing,
also prompted protests.
As Austin police and other city departments begin enforcing the camping ban on Tuesday, homeless advocates say the homeless are left without a clear, legal option: "There is no place for them to go," Mollica said.
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