By CLARICE SILBER Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Community organizations on Thursday welcomed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to follow through on his warning that the state would step in to address homelessness in the capital of Austin if city officials don’t take swift action.
The Republican governor sent Austin Mayor Steve Adler a letter Wednesday expressing concern that the city’s decision in June to largely rescind prohibitions on panhandling and sitting or sleeping in public has led to encampments by roadways and the accumulation of feces and used needles for drug use. After the decision, Abbott posted on Twitter that the move “will be yet another local ordinance the State of Texas will override.”
Abbott’s letter cited several actions he could take through state agencies to combat those public health and safety concerns.
Greg McCormack, executive director for Front Steps, which operates the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, said the governor’s bid to take action came as a surprise, “but we’ve been hoping for help from the state in Austin for a good while.”
“If there’s a concern that the city is not able to do enough, and the city is doing a good amount, but if there’s something that the state can do to help the city of Austin with that, I would welcome it,” McCormack said.
The warning by Abbott came weeks after President Donald Trump said he will do “something” about homelessness but offered no specifics beyond the mention of creating a task force during a visit to California. There, Trump also derided the state’s own handling of its homeless crisis.
Adler also welcomed the possible state support when responding at a Wednesday press conference, stating he views the letter as an offer of assistance in confronting a statewide challenge. But the mayor also stressed Austin does not have as bad of a homelessness problem as some other cities, noting the homeless count in the Texas capital rose by 4 percent in 2018.
“Cities like Seattle with 200,000 fewer people than we have, have six times as many people experiencing homelessness as we do,” Adler said. “The homeless count in [Los Angeles] last year went up by 16 percent, they have 40,000 people almost experiencing homelessness in [Los Angeles].”
More than 7,000 people experienced homelessness in 2018, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.
The 2019 Point-In-Time Count survey showed there were 2,255 individuals experiencing homelessness in Travis County on a single day.