“It’s pretty bad when the Governor has to step in and do your job,” one citizen tweeted to Austin Mayor Steve Adler earlier this week.
Lately in Texas’ capital city, Austinites have been railing against the controversial action—and inaction—of their city officials, and now they’re reacting to the latest development: seeing the state government arrive on the streets to protect public safety.
Some quick background: In June, the Austin City Council decided to make it legal for vagrants to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces across the city, sparking a wildfire of public contention (including a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures) and creating an alarming public safety risk. After five months of community and statewide outcry, the city council finally reversed parts of their law but not enough to fully restore public safety.
This week, at the order of Gov. Greg Abbott, the state government stepped in, cleaning up homeless encampments under highways in Austin and redirecting vagrants to nonprofits for immediate help.
As a result, many citizens are finally starting to feel some relief.
“I think it’s actually the right thing for [the state] to do. Absolutely,” said Stuart Dupuy, who owns a business in the downtown area. “[The state] needs to take care of the roadways, and it is not okay for people to be living and camping under Texas roadways.”
“[Before the cleanup] it was terrible. I couldn’t walk over to lunch without stepping over needles, bottles of human waste, dead animals, dead rats,” Dupuy added.
However, City Council Member Greg Casar disagreed. He tweeted that Abbott’s actions to restore public safety would cause “harm,” a remark that prompted numerous citizen comments.
“You and the @austintexasgov have destroyed this city,” one resident replied. “Enabling this lifestyle and allowing people to trash the city is unacceptable. You should have had a better plan in place, rather than allowing street folk to take over the city and disregard our health, safety, and security.”
“Did you really ask the Governor how much is it going to cost to clean up your mess? The citizens should be asking you that question,” another Austinite tweeted.
“Seeing [the homeless] is not the equivalent of helping them,” one citizen told Casar. “Your responsibility is to help those experiencing homelessness to find shelter, not let them live on the streets indefinitely in squalor. When you fail at that responsibility, sir, expect the State to take over.”
Other citizens pointed out how Casar, the mayor, and the rest of the city council had not only allowed individuals including registered sex offenders to sleep next to apartments and elementary schools but that the council was partly why the entire homelessness problem worsened in the first place.
“You and council are such hypocrites,” one resident tweeted. “You preach ‘Affordable Housing this, Affordable housing that all day long’ … but at the same time you and Council raise the property taxes to the max each year causing people to move or become homeless.”
In addition to a storm of outcry from citizens over the last several months, the council received heat from a slew of law enforcement and elected officials, including former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, University of Texas Police Chief David Carter, and U.S. Rep Chip Roy. All urged the council to reverse the law for the sake of the public’s safety.
“San Francisco chose to tolerate homelessness & drug use. It did so in the name of compassion for the homeless,” Gov. Abbott tweeted earlier this week. “It made the problems worse … No SF in TX.”
Abbott said the state will continue cleaning up highways at least once a week until further notice, and will be establishing a state campground near downtown for homeless individuals to receive assistance.