Texas governor, ‘following through on promise,’ tells TxDOT to clear homeless encampments under Austin highways starting Nov. 4

Homeless camps have become a fixture under highways such as I-35.

Homeless camps have become a fixture under highways such as I-35.

Homeless encampments under Austin’s highways will be cleared beginning Nov. 4, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, which said Oct. 29 that the governor was “following through on his promise” to step in and address Austin’s homelessness situation.

The Texas Department of Transportation will be responsible for clearing out the camps. To prepare the Austinites living under the city’s highways, department officials were dispatched to the encampments to hand out notices regarding the scheduled clearout. Abbott’s office said the move comes after the governor determined Austin has not done enough to address its own homelessness situation.

Earlier this month, Abbott offered a Nov. 1 deadline for Austin to make “consequential improvement” in its homelessness situation before he moved to dispatch state resources.

“Governor Abbott has been clear that unless the City of Austin demonstrated improvements to protect public health and safety, the state of Texas would step in to address this crisis,” said John Wittman, press secretary for Abbott, in a statement. “With today’s notice from TxDOT, the Governor is following through on his promise.”

The initial threat from the governor came after the months of controversy that followed Austin City Council's decision to lift bans on public camping, sitting and lying down—bans that directly impacted the city's homeless population. On Oct. 17, City Council voted to amend its decision and reinstitute some restrictions on where people could camp and in what situations they could sit or lie down in public rights of way.

The state notices announcing the clearing-out, marked with the official TxDOT letterhead, said any items left behind at camps under Austin’s highways by Nov. 4 would be “considered abandoned and removed.” The department directed encampment residents to use TxDOT's “Be Safe Be Seen” reflective drawstring bags to pack up “important items, such as documents and medications.” The “Be Safe Be Seen” program launched back in 2017 and was aimed at making the homeless more visible to passing cars after multiple pedestrian fatalities on I-35.

According to the notices, TxDOT will collect items considered abandoned and put them in a 30-day lost-and-found so that people can come back and pick up any items they may have left behind. TxDOT also included addresses and phone numbers for a variety of homelessness service providers, with which those experiencing homelessness can get in touch.

“These notices are the first step to clear encampments from underpasses throughout the city, while providing those experiencing homelessness with access to resources for services and care,” Wittman said. “In addition to these short-term services, the Office of the Governor is working with a coalition consisting of private sector and faith-based organizations on longer-term solutions.”

The statement also said the Austin Chamber of Commerce would spearhead a private-sector effort to meet the needs of the city’s homeless population. Mike Rollins, president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the organization’s role, but provided little detail regarding the coordination efforts.

“We all can do more to solve homelessness in Austin and to help those who are experiencing it,” Rollins said. “The business community has been working with faith-based groups, nonprofits and both our state and local governments to focus on the gaps in the system and help the people who need it the most. We will continue to focus on working with as many partners as possible to deliver compassionate solutions to homelessness in Austin.”

Chamber spokesperson Danielle Trevino said more details will emerge in the coming weeks. The news comes after months of pleading for assistance from the private sector by city officials, who repeated over and over again that the public sector alone could not carry the burden of ending homelessness in the community.

Although Abbott referred to the effort as a clearing of encampments, TxDOT spokesperson Diann Hodges, emphasized that they were “clean-ups, not clear-outs.” Hodges said TxDOT will essentially be resuming its role in cleaning up under Austin’s highways, a duty the state foisted onto the city and its public works department earlier this year. Hodges said law enforcement officials will accompany TxDOT workers as they clean up the camps, just as they have in the past.


Editor's note: This story was updated to correctly attribute a quote from Mike Rollins, president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. 


Bicycles for public use are docked at a MetroBike station on Lake Austin Boulevard. Austin's $460 million Proposition B will include funding for additional bicycle lanes through the city. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Breaking down Austin's $460 million bond for bike lanes, trails, sidewalks and more

The bond will fun a bridge over Pleasant Valley Road connecting two ends of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike trail, among other improvements.

Local health leaders are urging caution ahead of Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Ahead of Thanksgiving, Travis County health officials urge caution

Austin Public Health leaders say gatherings with people outside one's household held indoors and without masks pose the greatest risk.

Harini Logan, 10, won the 66th annual Express-News Spelling Bee at the University of Texas at San Antonio downtown campus on March 17, 2019. For 2021, the event is slated to be held in March at the Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre in New Braunfels. (Photo by Jerry Lara, courtesy the San Antonio Express News)
New Braunfels to host regional spelling bee and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

ACC’s Pinnacle Campus has been closed since 2018. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Community College: There’s 'excitement' for a new Pinnacle campus

The Southwest Austin campus has been closed since 2018 due to poor facility conditions.

A new pedestrian path was build along Sawyer Ranch Road this fall. (Courtesy Hays County)
Sawyer Ranch Road shared-use path completed in Dripping Springs

The project is one of the first completed through Hays County's 2016 bond.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand is expected to open its long-awaited Pflugerville location this January. (Courtesy P. Terry's Burger Stand)
P. Terry's to open in Pflugerville in January and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

The Bridge at Turtle Creek apartment complex will provide more than 300 affordable units upon completion in 2022. (Rendering courtesy Journeyman Group)
Austin development updates: Apartments could replace two Rainey Street bars, 307 affordable housing units coming to South First Street area

A 569-foot apartment complex could replace Javelina and Craft Bar. Meanwhile, development continues in the St. Elmo area.

Trail of Lights (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Holiday markets, strolls, tree lightings and Trail of Lights: 18 events in the Austin area in November and December

The Trail of Lights has gone drive-thru this year, while the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is taking free, ticketed reservations to adhere to social distancing requirements.

Austin voters approved a $7.1 billion public transit expansion Nov. 3 that will add bus and rail in Austin. (Design by Miranda Baker/Community Impact Newspaper)
After historic public transportation vote, here is what's next for Project Connect in Austin

Shovels won't be hitting the ground on the light rail and downtown tunnel for years, but work is getting started now after Austinites approved the $7.1 billion plan Nov. 3.

Laura Colangelo
Q&A: Laura Colangelo discusses challenges facing private schools during pandemic

Colangelo said private schools have adapted to remote learning and other obstacles in 2020 despite less revenue and a 9% decline in enrollment statewide.

Friends and co-owners (from left) Chris Blumentritt, Debbie Mylius and Phil Harding share a space in South Austin for Old School Liquor & Market and Cannon Coffee. (Photos by Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Old School Liquor & Market, Cannon Coffee keep it local in Southwest Austin

Three friends opened the neighboring businesses in 2019, showcasing local breweries, distilleries and coffee roasters.