Austin Mayor visits Seattle, Los Angeles to learn what they “wished they had done”

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler will begin a trip to Los Angeles and Seattle Tuesday morning to meet with city leaders there about how they handle mobility and homelessness.

The latter is in the spotlight after the Adler-led Council approved sweeping rule changes, decriminalizing many aspects of homelessness.

Adler hopes to learn how to move forward as the city council expects to take action when the city manager reports back in August with specific recommendations.

“What should we be doing now that LA and Seattle wished they had done earlier, so we can learn from those experiences,” said Mayor Adler.

Mayor Adler’s trip comes on the heels of Austin’s controversial new homeless rules. In June, city council stopped police from ticketing people who are panhandling, sleeping, and camping in many public spaces— unless they’re a public safety or health threat.

Monday marks a week since the new homeless ordinances went into effect. Under the new rules police no longer ask people to break down all their tents – only those that block a walkway or present a health or safety hazard. The city council says it made the changes – to decriminalize the homeless population.

The changes also make all “aggressive confrontations” offenses under city code, whether they involve panhandling or not.

That policy has irritated and activated some people in opposition, including Gov. Greg Abbott. Mayor Adler says the public scrutiny is a good thing because it’s getting more people into the process.

“Quite frankly the attention that homelessness has gotten as we began this process in June, I think is a really good thing. I’m not sure we’ve ever had the community as focused and as aligned and as interested in actually doing things as we have right now,” said Adler.

In August, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will return with recommendations for reasonable times and places for camping, sitting, or lying, possible options for non-criminal solutions for enforcing those times and places, possible options for parking areas that would allow people to sleep in cars and get services, and provide possible options for safe storage lockers for homeless people.

Why Los Angeles and Seattle?

For many, the story of homelessness in LA is a story of too little too late. In the past six years, homelessness has gone up 75 percent in LA; now 55,000 people are homeless, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times.

In 1975, the city started its “containment” plan. People could camp and live on the street in one 50-block area. “Skid Row” became infamous as hospitals and prisons dumped people there with nowhere else to go.

Then, the city wanted to revitalize downtown and the city started its “broken window” plan in 2006: ticketing people for jaywalking, loitering, littering, just to clear them out. The problem was there was no place for them to go.

Now the problem is very expensive.

In the last year and a half, LA used $4.6 billion in taxes to build housing: 10,000 units in 10 years. The city also added $100-million a year in additional taxes on developers to build affordable housing, according to the Times.

Seattle is smaller than Austin but has six times as many homeless people as we do.

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