According to one homeless Austinite, “it’s a blast” to be without a home in Texas’ capital city.

“This is a famous place to live on the streets. Everybody knows that,” the man said amid the noisy whoosh of cars overhead on the highway. “If you want to live on the streets, go to Austin.”

The man, who has lived under the same overpass for three years, seems to have an outlook that strongly contrasts the recent tumultuous months in the state’s capital.

The story began in June when the Austin City Council made it legal for vagrants to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces across the city (though notably, not outside city hall). Almost overnight, Austinites saw their streets, sidewalks, and highways littered with campsites and tent cities.

“You don’t even have to buy food. Everybody feeds you, gives you money,” the man continued. “You can party, it’s a blast.”

The city council’s June decision sparked a wildfire of public contention, prompting over 45,000 citizens to sign a petition calling for its reversal. Citizens also packed townhalls over the summer, testifying to the harmful consequences of the law and angry that registered sex offenders were among those now allowed to sleep directly next to apartments and elementary schools.

The law’s serious public safety risk also prompted numerous law enforcement and elected officials to write open letters to the city council, urging them to reverse their decision. Citizens even began an ongoing effort to kick out the mayor and five of the city council members from office.

After four months of public outcry and council inaction, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott got involved, telling Mayor Steve Adler that if he did not take responsibility to improve the safety of Austinites by November 1, the state would need to step in to protect the public.

Shortly after, the city council finally made changes to their law, but they chose to reverse only parts of it. Homeless individuals were now no longer allowed to camp on sidewalks but could still sit and lie down on them, and the issue of camping under highways, on street medians, and in numerous other locations was left unaddressed.

Meanwhile, the homeless man said last week that Austin became—and still is—a nationwide destination for homeless people.

“People come from all over the country to come to Austin because it’s famous,” he said.

Indeed, recent reports have confirmed that governments in places such as New York City and San Francisco are giving taxpayer money to homeless people if they leave the city. Officials in New York City have paid to send over 12,000 homeless nationwide to states including Hawaii and cities including Austin.

“There’s people coming from North Carolina, Washington, Virginia … I come from Galveston, myself,” said Clyde Cates, another Austinite who has been homeless for the past three years.

Last week, Abbott took action and sent the state to begin protecting the community, instructing state officials to clean up encampments under highways and to direct homeless individuals to nonprofits for immediate help. Abbott also established a state campground near downtown, where homeless people can receive assistance.

However, long-term solutions for the problem are still unclear. City officials want to continue provenly failed policies that made Austin a “party,” dumping a record $62 million into homelessness for the next year. The state’s role remains to be seen.

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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