AUSTIN—Violent crime among the homeless intensified last year in Texas’ capital city, and Gov. Greg Abbott is blaming the progressive-run Austin City Council.
New data from the Austin Police Department reveals homeless-on-homeless violent crime increased 23 percent from 2018 to 2019, and violent crime with a transient perpetrator to a non-homeless victim rose 6 percent over the same timeframe.
The new numbers come amid a months-long fiery dispute in the city.
The story began back in June, when the Austin City Council made it legal for vagrants to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces across the city. Almost overnight, Austinites saw their streets, sidewalks, and highways littered with campsites, trash, and tent cities.
The council’s decision sparked a wildfire of public contention, prompting a slew of law enforcement and elected officials to speak out against it, and over 86,000 citizens signed a petition calling for the law’s 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.
After four months of public outcry, safety risk, and council inaction—and a public warning from Abbott regarding the citizens’ safety—the council finally met in October and changed their law, but they chose to reverse only parts of it.
In November, Abbott intervened, instructing state agencies 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 could receive assistance.
Yet recently, a spate of incidents and tragedies has reignited the community outrage. Several public fires started by homeless people and numerous assaults—including a homeless man fatally stabbing a restaurant manager in broad daylight—prompted Abbott to mobilize more state police in the city to help protect from what he called “lawlessness promoted by the Austin City Council.”
Now, with the latest violent crime statistics, the governor is speaking out again.
“The City of Austin’s failure to properly address the homelessness crisis continues to endanger public safety—especially for those experiencing homelessness,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman in a statement to CBS Austin. “As the Austin Police Department’s numbers show, not only has there been a rise in crimes committed by the homeless, but increasingly the victims of these crimes are, in fact, homeless themselves.”
“This rise in crime is a result of the city’s failed policies, including the reversal of the camping ban last year,” the statement continued. “It is time for the city to step up and protect their citizens, enforce the law, and ensure that unsheltered Austinites are given the resources they need to transition out of homelessness.”