Days after Texas officials began clearing tent cities in Austin, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state will provide a temporary camp location for homeless residents.
The temporary shelter will be located in plot of land of more than 5 acres about 3 miles southeast from downtown and near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The state-sanctioned camp will have portable restrooms, hand washing stations and local charities will deliver food multiple times during the day, said John Wittman, a spokesman with the governor’s office.
“This location will provide access to healthcare providers and homeless case workers to provide care for the homeless,” Wittman added.
The announcement comes after Texas Department of Transportation workers began scooping up piles of trash and left-behind belongings at 17 locations throughout the city, but especially camps in highway underpasses. Abbott ordered the cleanups, arguing that relaxed city ordinances had spurred lawlessness and indecency in the streets.
In response to the cleanups, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and several partners launched a nonprofit to raise $14 million to build a separate shelter that can be operated for at least two years.
The funding will cover the construction and operation of a fully heated and air-conditioned shelter for about 300 people, the chamber of commerce said in a statement.
Austin rules for homeless camps sparked debate
In June, the City Council made it easier for homeless people to sit, lie and camp in more spaces across Austin, including many sidewalks.
Previously, homeless residents were ticketed for such actions, leading to court dates and fines that people wouldn’t attend or pay. That made it harder for them to get jobs and housing, said Chris Harris, a homeless advocate who works with a group called Homes Not Handcuffs.
The new rules also made it possible for the homeless to congregate in the downtown area and stay closer to resources and jobs, rather than in the woods, away from view.
“People that have come out of hiding now are getting medical attention that they weren’t getting,” said Mayor Steve Adler. “They are getting access to housing and services in ways that did not happen before.”
The outcome resulted in fierce pushback from some business owners and residents across the city. They formed groups opposing the new rules, and launched a petition against the ordinances.
Last month, Abbott threatened that if the city didn’t drastically change its laws by November 1, the state would intervene.
He took his first step on Monday with the cleanups under highways, but he also listed other measures the state could enact in Austin, such as bringing in the Health and Human Services Commission to address what he called public safety concerns or using the attorney general’s office to seek “civil penalties for violations of Texas statutes and rules requiring abatement of public health nuisances.”