Is the Austin Public Camping Catastrophe Coming Back? - Texas Scorecard

Despite a years-long public safety disaster in Texas’ capital city—plus a citizen petition campaign and a newly enacted state law—citizens are now seeing lawless homeless camping return to their neighborhoods.

During the 2021 state legislative session, Texas officials loudly trumpeted the passage of House Bill 1925, which banned public tent encampments statewide. The new law was largely responding to the two-year crisis in Austin, where Democrat city officials legalized open camping in nearly all public spaces across the city (which sparked a wildfire of crime, public outcry, and eventual election to overturn the decision).

Unfortunately, a recent cursory examination of the state’s capital city reveals the state law isn’t being enforced on the streets, even in areas where the state has jurisdiction.

Now, in the wake of the state’s failure, one of the worst plagues from 1980s-era New York City has moved in.

On Sunday, during what was supposed to be an afternoon walk with no “reporting” intention, Texas Scorecard encountered a new homeless encampment at the intersection of I-35 and Cesar Chavez Street.

One of the camp residents told Texas Scorecard the encampment began to go up late in the day on Saturday. The resident, pictured below, then attempted to sell some of his “artwork.” Texas Scorecard politely declined, but suggested he might find a buyer at notoriously spend-happy Austin City Hall.

The most alarming new development, however, was the presence of “squeegee guys” on the access road on the northbound side of I-35.

For Texans (blissfully) unfamiliar with the aggressive panhandling practice, so-called “squeegee guys” were the bane of New York City in the 1980s.

Author Fred Seigel explains:

For many motorists, the first sign that they’d entered New York were the nearly ubiquitous “squeegee pests” who would approach at a red light and offer to “clean” your car in exchange for a few quarters.  In the past squeegees just ignored the tickets that they had been given for blocking traffic …Under Giuliani, they began to make arrests.

The I-35 right of way is under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation. So, the Texas Department of Public Safety doesn’t need any cooperation from the city of Austin to enforce state law.

However, under Gov. Greg Abbott, the DPS has allowed this behavior to continue unimpeded. 

While it’s a bit dated and geographically bound, comparisons to former (Democrat) New York City Mayor David Dinkins are a bad look for any Texas Republican, let alone one facing a primary election in a month.

The latest encampment and activity also comes amid reports of tent cities again popping up in Austin’s public spaces over the past several weeks. 

Concerned Texans may call the office of Texas DPS director Steven McCraw at (512) 424-7771.