A stabbing last week by a homeless man again points to a problem the city has not been able to address, Gov. Greg Abbott says.
“What Austin has done over the past half year is to perpetuate a sense of lawlessness in this city by the homeless,” the governor said.
With a new city ordinance implemented last June, the downtown area has experienced an 18 percent increase in violent crime in 2019, according to crime data collected between January and October.
State troopers through the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) are now patrolling sections of downtown Austin, including the vicinity around the University of Texas campus.
“How many people will be killed and injured before Austin reforms its homeless policies?” Abbott asked. “I’m heartbroken about stories I hear about dangers around downtown Austin.”
Abbott also encouraged residents to share their experiences about any danger they’ve encountered with the homeless with the DPS and on social media.
U.S. Rep Chip Roy of Austin added in a public column: “As the congressman representing much of downtown Austin, I have seen and heard the impact of the homeless problem. Local business owners have told me about their increased security needs and of finding needles in their parking lots. These developments not only endanger the local community but also will have an impact on visitors’ perceptions of the city, threatening the vitally important tourism dollars that come to Austin every year.”
Roy adds that Austin’s anti-growth zoning restrictions and “crushingly burdensome tax rates” have not helped “solve” the affordable housing crisis the area is experiencing.
In June, City Council members voted to allow camping, sitting and lying in public spaces, an effort Mayor Steve Adler said was designed to bring people living in the shadows out into the open.
More than 7,000 individuals experienced homelessness in 2018, reports ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Its 2019 Point in Time Count found there were 2,255 individuals experiencing homelessness in Travis County on a single day.
“Of the 2,255 individuals experiencing homelessness, 1,169 were sheltered and 1,086 were unsheltered,” ECHO reports.
In order to determine how many are on the streets now, ECHO is seeking volunteers to help participate in its annual point-in-time count scheduled for Jan. 25.
Residents interested in participating can register online.
The count, which also contributes to the Census count, is vital for the city and state to allocate funds to address homelessness.
“It sort of drives a lot of federal funding that comes into our community, so it’s really important to get an accurate count,” Matt Mollica, EHCO’s executive director, told the Austin American-Statesman. “We know the count last year and in recent years has been an undercount. We really need people to come forward and step up” to volunteer.
In 2019, volunteers counted 2,255 homeless people living in Austin, an increase from 2018 and 2017.
According to the Texas Homeless Network, more than 8,000 people experienced homelessness in 215 Texas counties outside the state’s urban regions in 2019. That’s nearly as many as the combined homeless population in Dallas and Houston, it notes. Since 2016, homelessness in less populated counties has increased by 33 percent.
This article was first published by The Center Square.