As Austin attempts to move forward after more than two years of a lawless public camping disaster, city officials have quietly admitted the failure of their largest homeless services contractor.
According to local media, the city will decline to renew the contract for “Front Steps,” a so-called “services provider” who had managed the city’s largest homeless shelter since 2004.
Over the past several months, City staff have been in conversation with the board of directors of one of those vendors, Front Steps, regarding organizational challenges faced by the nonprofit, and enlisted a third-party consultant to help guide the development of an action plan.
After much discussion, the Board has identified a need for an intensive strategy and reimagining of the organization to better prepare its staff and leaders to provide Homeless services in the wake of the pandemic. While Front Steps redefines its operations, the City has determined that all Front Steps contracts will be discontinued no later than September 30, 2022.
The decision is the latest in a nationally known saga. In 2019, the Democrat-run Austin City Council voted to repeal a local public camping law, allowing homeless individuals to set up tents in nearly all public spaces (except city hall, notably). As a result, the city’s homeless population skyrocketed and massive tent encampments sprung up along streets and neighborhoods throughout Austin.
As the homeless population increased, so did the rate of violent crime. Austin homicides increased year over year in 2020 by 64 percent, and other violent crimes rose by double digits. The combined factors of massive homeless encampments and increasingly dangerous—and filthy—city streets quickly led to public backlash against the council’s decision.
In January 2021, citizen group Save Austin Now submitted a petition to the city with more than 27,000 signatures calling for a public vote on the reinstatement of the camping law. The petition was successful, and in a subsequent May election, more than 58 percent of Austin residents voted to restore the original public camping law.
Afterward, Austinites turned their attention to city officials’ checkbooks, as they were spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on the homelessness problem, but with little results to show for it.
A recent audit revealed the city has “no complete inventory of agreements and associated spending for the City’s homelessness assistance efforts, and the number of these agreements cannot be fully determined.” In other words, they don’t know where the money is going.
One local thought leader commented on the city’s decision to cut ties with the nonprofit:
Does this mean the City of Austin has been blowing money on the homeless situation?
The same City that wants to spend $500,000,000 more ?
Shocking. 😐 https://t.co/8p4wK9pyCS
— Adam Loewy 🇺🇸 (@LoewyLawFirm) July 15, 2022
City hall’s homelessness spending sprees and mismanagement are likely to be major issues in upcoming city council elections, which will take place down the ballot in the November general election.