Austin City Council stresses need for progress in homelessness fix

City officials are facing growing pressure to address the growing visibility of homelessness in Austin. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
City officials are facing growing pressure to address the growing visibility of homelessness in Austin. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

City officials are facing growing pressure to address the growing visibility of homelessness in Austin. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin’s rising population of people experiencing homelessness was the top priority of City Council heading into 2020 but took a backseat as the pandemic spread locally.

Austin’s mayor and City Council said they wanted to begin seeing actionable timelines and progress made in 2021 on helping people exit homelessness.

The city will refocus its hotel and motel conversion strategy it began at the end of 2019 to offer transitional housing and social services to its homeless population. During the pandemic, the city leased five motels as “protective lodging” sites aimed at keeping people experiencing homelessness off the streets and out of crowded shelters. Those will remain open into 2021.

Meanwhile, local and state efforts to reinstate a camping ban in Austin continue. Gov. Greg Abbott said Jan. 21 he expects to announce a plan that would ban camping statewide, and a local group submitted a petition in January that, if approved, would put the question of reinstating the local ban to voters in May.

Mayor Steve Adler and other city council members proposed Jan. 25 the city look into sanctioned homeless encampments—an idea city staff rejected in 2019—as pressure from the community and Abbott mount to address the visibility of homelessness locally. Sanctioned homeless encampments are plots of land designated by the government as a safe and encouraged place to camp, as opposed to encampments that have organically cropped up on public land, such as along East Cesar Chavez Street or East Riverside Drive.


This story is part of Community Impact Newspaper's Annual Community Guide, which takes a look at the biggest development, education, health care, education, government and local business stories for the year ahead.
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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