You already read the headline, but that’s not even the worst part.

Yes, Austin City Council is spending a record-high $62.7 million this year to try and solve homelessness, equivalent to giving roughly $28,000 to each homeless person in the city. But the more startling fact is that Austin officials are leading the city down the same dangerous path San Francisco has already journeyed—a path Austinites should be wary not to travel.

Before peering down the road toward Austin’s future, let’s look around for a moment at the crisis happening right now in Texas’ capital city. The homeless population is rapidly rising, up 5 percent a year for the last two years; the number of those unsheltered on the streets is the highest it has been in nearly a decade. And you may have even noticed people camping in the middle of public areas all across town, thanks to a recent decision by the city council that has spread contention throughout the community.

We already know city council’s plan to solve this whole problem is to spend a lot of money, but instead of just writing a $28,000 check to each homeless person, they’re sending pallets of tax dollars through a cash-eating maze of city administration and bureaucracy, hoping that a fraction of it eventually comes out the other side to the people on the streets.

Will that plan work? Enter San Francisco, the potential Austin-of-the-future.

If you look just past the shiny Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll see one of the worst homelessness disasters in the United States. The Bay City has recently become infamous for homeless crime, used syringes, and human feces littering the entire downtown area (the city even has a designated “Poop Patrol”).

San Francisco’s city government created a bold plan to solve everything, a plan Austin is now following: Spend lots of citizens’ money.

From 2016 to 2020, their city government will have spent over $1.5 billion on homelessness. If you do the math of that four-year spending based on the current homeless population of 9,784, that’s over $153,000 on each person.

Yet despite San Francisco’s mind-boggling payouts per person, the situation for those on the street—and the rest of the city—has only deteriorated.

Indeed, the homeless population has grown by nearly 7 percent in just the last two years (and 14 percent since 2013), with the vast majority of those new homeless being hometown folks. Oh, and the dangerous turmoil on the streets downtown has only intensified.

In short, the plan isn’t working. San Francisco’s city government has thrown a bewildering amount of money and programs at this problem, yet the landscape remains in shambles and littered with feces.

Back in Austin, where citizens are beginning to see more visible vagrancy and crime downtown, our city officials are trying the same exact plan as San Francisco with a fraction of the money. How should they expect that to end? (Hint: According to a city audit, Austin officials are already doing a dismal job fixing this problem with the money they do have, and the city is only just beginning their planned spending sprees.)

The path San Francisco has traveled—the path of enormous government spending—has ended in chaos, but Austinites can protect their own quality of life by telling their city officials to turn around now.

Meanwhile, there are still nagging questions that remain: What is causing Austin’s homeless problem in the first place, and how can it effectively be solved?

You can read Part II of this story here. 

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.


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