As Austinites continue to face an alarming public safety risk, a U.S. congressman is the latest to speak out against Austin’s mayor for his controversial new homeless camping law.
“The ordinance is a lazy approach to dealing with homeless individuals in our community,” wrote U.S. Rep. Chip Roy Monday in an open letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Roy, a newly elected Republican member of Congress, represents much of downtown Austin.
“The new ordinance undermines security, harms private property of our citizens, hurts commerce, and endangers those it purports to help—the homeless,” Roy said.
At issue is Austin’s recent homeless camping law, which allows homeless people to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces across the city. Since Mayor Adler and the city council passed the law in June, there has been a predictable outbreak of sidewalk campsites and tent cities on sidewalks and streets and underneath overpasses.
The decision has also caused a public health and safety risk, prompting over 34,000 citizens to sign a petition calling for the law’s reversal. On top of that, citizens have packed numerous townhalls over the summer, testifying to the harmful consequences of the law and angry that registered sex offenders are among those now allowed to sleep right next to apartments and elementary schools. The University of Texas police chief even wrote the mayor an open letter urging him to reverse the decision for the sake of students’ security.
After a tumultuous three months of alarming safety risk and public anger—and after the city council returned from their five-week vacation—they met in September, supposedly prepared to finally make changes to the law; however, the council ended up taking no action, postponing even a discussion on the matter until mid-October.
In Roy’s letter, he wrote that he has heard numerous complaints from citizens and businesses in Austin since June, and he called the law “particularly harmful to the fabric of our community.”
“It is bad enough to essentially give up on the homeless community by encouraging people to set up tents on the streets, but the city council’s new policy also negatively impacts Austin residents, as well as tourists and visitors,” wrote Roy. “Allowing homeless people to sleep in nearly all public spaces can lead to increased risks of violence, crime, health issues, and other negative consequences.”
Roy added that Austin’s city officials are leading citizens down a harmful path.
“Austin should not follow the unsanitary and destructive path commonly seen in places like San Francisco … proper solutions to homelessness must be put forth by members of the community, including service organizations, healthcare professionals, and business leaders,” he said, adding that the city should collaborate with local organizations to find more shelter and permanent housing.
“I look forward to the opportunity to work with the City Council in whatever ways may be appropriate, but the city must change the policy.”
Mayor Adler said Monday evening that he had not yet read the letter, but he did have a few comments.
“Our goal is to not have anybody camping anywhere in our city, and that is our goal—to find housing for people,” the mayor said.
In the meantime, Austinites continue to face safety risks because of the council’s law and their refusal to change it.
The council is expected to resume discussion on the situation in the next few weeks.