In the same week that state agencies began clearing homeless encampments under Austin’s highways, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Nov. 7 plans for a state-sanctioned homeless encampment on more than 5 acres of land off US 183 near Montopolis.
Abbott’s office provided no further details on when the encampment would open, but provided 780 US 183 as the official address. His press secretary, John Wittman, said, in a text message, the land is as close to downtown as the state could provide and would have various amenities for the camping population.
“The state-provided location includes portable restrooms, hand washing stations, and comes with commitments from local charities to deliver food multiple times during the day,” Wittman said. “This location will provide access to healthcare providers and homeless case workers to provide care for the homeless.”
A spokesperson for the city of Austin said they did not have enough information to know whether the encampment would help or not. The city’s homelessness strategy team specifically recommended against sanctioning specific areas where the homeless population could camp when City Council floated the idea back in August.
“The Homeless Strategy Office will respectfully not bring forth recommendations for authorized encampments nor options for parking areas,” Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales wrote to City Council in an Aug. 15 memo, citing concerns about such a short-sighted solution. “Rather, the focus will continue to be on housing first and the deployment of actions targeted toward rapid re-housing, emergency shelters, low-barrier housing-focused shelter, and permanent supportive housing.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the state's plan could help, but resources need to be placed in permanent housing solutions.
"The state's temporary camping area can be constructive when it provides people with a choice that has greater safety, services and support and a real prospect of a housing exit," Adler said in a text message. "The city will support such efforts with continued focus on permanent housing solutions and we could really use the state's help here, too."
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool agreed, and said Abbott's plan could work, but she hopes the area will offer mental health and addiction services as well.
“I imagine it would indeed help,” Pool said via text message. “We know that the availability of and access to supportive wrap-around services is also needed ... and the state has funding and good resources for that, so sounds like a good step in the direction of working together on solutions to challenges.”
District 6 City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said ending homelessness was always going to require the participation of every jurisdiction, and the city would continue focusing on long-term solutions.
"We're excited to see folks come to the table in new and creative ways," Flannigan said. "The solutions offered ... by the governor are temporary in nature. [It] can fill a role while the city stands up the more permanent solutions and that partnership has the ability to be successful."
This is a developing story. Check back in for updates.
Gov. Greg Abbott announces plan for state-sanctioned homeless encampment off US 183 near Montopolis
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a plan for a state-sanctioned homeless encampment in Southeast Austin on Nov. 7. (Courtesy Laura Buckman/Texas Tribune)