Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will send state agency to clear homeless encampments under Austin overpasses, monitor water quality

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Less than 24 hours after Austin City Council moved to further adjust a pair of laws that impact the homeless population, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said the governor will send in state agencies to address and monitor Austin’s homelessness challenge.

Abbott will assign the Texas Department of Transportation to clear out active homeless camps under Austin’s highways, and continue to monitor the city’s water quality for e-coli and other bacteria, according to a statement from the governor’s press secretary, John Wittman. In a previous letter, Abbott warned that the city’s growing homelessness issue put Austin’s water quality at risk of contamination.

The governor previously demanded Austin show “consequential improvement” in addressing the city’s homelessness issue by Nov. 1, or else he would send in state resources to do the job.

Although his office called City Council’s Oct. 17 vote to ban public camping on sidewalks citywide and sitting and lying in some situations a “meaningful step to address the safety and health of Texans,” it said Abbott still would call on state agencies to step in.

“The state will monitor how well the [city’s new camping] policy actually reduces the skyrocketing complaints about attacks by the homeless and other public safety concerns,” Abbott’s office said. “To ensure the safety of both the homeless and fellow Texans, the Texas Department of Transportation will advance strategies to clear homeless encampments under bridges.”

TxDOT previously performed encampment cleanups under Austin's highways before foisting the responsibility onto the city earlier this year. The city has performed such cleanups at 60-65 locations under Austin highways on a monthly basis since the spring.

Citywide statistics show from July to September, year-over-year, violent crime with a homeless suspect and non-homeless victim are up 11%—64 cases to 71 cases. Property crime with a homeless suspect and non-homeless victim is up 2%—322 cases to 327.

The largest jump in crimes during that time was in non-homeless suspects attacking homeless victims, according to the data. Violent crime with a non-homeless suspect and homeless victim went up 19%—36 cases to 43 cases. Property crime of a similar nature went up 42%—52 cases to 74 cases.

Abbott’s office said the Texas Department of Public Safety would work with the Austin Police Department, University of Texas police, “and all state-related facilities to ensure safety and security.”

Abbott’s office said the governor is also working with homeless shelters “in and around Austin” to achieve the “best results.” Representatives from Front Steps, the operator of the downtown Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, and the Salvation Army—two of the city’s largest shelter operators—told Community Impact Newspaper they have not heard anything from the governor or his office.

 
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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