The city of Austin cleared multiple encampments and at least 30 individuals experiencing homelessness along the eastern side of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail on Feb. 22.
The city said it conducted the clearings along South Lakeshore Boulevard and South Pleasant Valley Road given the increased presence of camps in the area and due to concerns over public access and environmental conditions. The targeted portion of Town Lake Metro Park includes its Lakeshore, International Shores, Peace Point and Longhorn Shores areas and the hike and bike trail and boat ramps. Tents, garbage, sheds and other debris had dotted the area's parkland and waterfront for months.
"This site is highly visible and has grown substantially since October. This encampment is in close proximity to the trail, and it is being addressed to ensure appropriate public access," a city spokesperson said in a statement.
Austin Public Health's Homeless Strategy Division led the effort with support from the city parks, watershed protection, resource recovery and police departments. The parkland will remain closed Feb. 22 while the removal of individuals and their belongings as well as additional debris and other "unsanitary conditions" continues. City officials said they hope to make environmental repairs and allow for revegetation after the clearing.
⚠ The Butler Trail between International Shores and Longhorn Dam is temporarily closed. Through traffic should follow the arrows on the map and the detour signs posted on site. pic.twitter.com/UyymrWaVRH
— Austin Parks & Rec (@AustinCityParks) February 22, 2022
Shortly after 8 a.m., Austin police officers had also responded to a call for a welfare check at Longhorn Shores and found a dead body on the 400 block of South Pleasant Valley. The Austin Police Department said initial review indicated that the death was not suspicious, and an investigation is ongoing. APD general orders require officers to contact paramedics, their supervisors and homicide investigators in such situations.
The Feb. 22 lakeshore enforcement was not carried out as part of Austin's Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL, initiative aimed at moving people experiencing homelessness into shelter. With local shelters at capacity, the cleanup saw at least 30 people living in the area asked to leave without a housing option.
The encampment clearing comes as the city struggles to keep pace with the enforcement of its reinstated camping ban while supporting a buildup of local housing space for those experiencing homelessness. The city operates two bridge shelters along I-35, and two refurbished apartment complexes for those exiting homelessness could open in Northwest Austin by late 2022.
"City leaders continue to caution that overall community crisis shelter capacity remains extremely limited. For as long as this is the case, as encampments are cleared in one location, the number of tents will inevitably grow in other areas," the city spokesperson said.