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Adler praises planned talks on homelessness, pushes for clear timeline

Thursday, February 4, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

In a presentation at Wednesday’s annual meeting of the Austin Chamber, Mayor Steve Adler praised a soon-to-be-announced partnership between the group and other local organizations around plans to address the city’s homeless population. Adler’s comments during the event hinted at the forthcoming community conversations that will be organized by the chamber, the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Justice Coalition, with the goal of establishing realistic timelines and costs for moving significant numbers of the city’s homeless population into permanent housing.

“With the chamber and the DAA joining with the Austin Justice Coalition I think we have a chance of doing something that will actually resolve this challenge for us,” he said before awarding a proclamation for the chamber’s leadership. “This could be the success that is the big one of all of the things we’ve mentioned, because it certainly is one of our biggest challenges right now.”

Afterward, Adler told the Austin Monitor he hopes the talks that will take place throughout February will answer questions in the community that have been brewing since City Council voted in 2019 to end penalties against camping and gathering in most public places.

“This is a facilitated community conversation with a lot of the stakeholders and a lot of the other people involved … with the goal of trying to come up with an implementation schedule on homelessness to end it, so people can understand what’s involved, with metrics along the way. It’s also going to try to address how we deal with the immediacy of the issue and the way people are reacting to it,” he said.

He added that there needs to be a community consensus on “the safest and best way to share public space.”

In recent weeks Adler has voiced support for clear actions to prevent camping in areas of the city where there is a public safety issue caused mainly by the proximity of motor vehicles to homeless encampments. He said the 2019 vote and subsequent Council actions related to homelessness have given the city manager the authority to limit camping, but the language appears not to have been explicit enough about that goal.

“Now as you drive around the city there are some places where people are that just don’t look safe to me, with cars really rapidly going by on both sides. I’m scared to death that someday someone is going to skip a curb and take out five tents,” he said. “The manager has the ability and was asked to limit camping in some kinds of places but for whatever reason that hasn’t happened, and maybe that’s because Council’s language wasn’t clear enough, the manager didn’t think he had the authority … I’m not sure what.”

After publication of this article, a spokesperson for the city clarified to the Monitor: “Following Council direction, City staff provided recommendations on limiting camping in August 2019. After initially postponing action on proposals in September 2019, Council reinstated limited bans on camping and resting in public in October 2019. To date, the Mayor and Council have not given staff any additional policy direction that would provide us the authority to take further action in changing City ordinances.”

At today’s meeting, Council will vote on the possible purchase of another hotel to be converted into supportive housing for the homeless, and will also consider a resolution directing the city manager to establish clear timelines and plans for using $3 million toward homeless services and housing in the coming months.

With the May election potentially including a ballot measure that could restore the criminal prohibition on camping, Adler said the city needs to send a clear message about what steps are being taken to move homeless Austinites into housing.

“We have a vote coming up in May, and one question is, do we go back to where we were before? I hope people don’t do that, because it is not humane or safe and all it does is hide the challenge. It doesn’t help us to fix it. At the same time, I don’t want people thinking that the conditions that exist today are static and we’re OK with people camping in many places across the city, because no one wants that either, so we’ve got to do a better job.”

Photo by Lars Plougmann made available through a Creative Commons license.

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