Gov. Abbott doubles down: ‘Constant crimes like this is compelling the state to step in’

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott said the state is “compelled” to intervene in Austin. He tweeted Saturday:

His office announced Friday while Austin’s City Council took “a meaningful step to address the safety and health of Texans” by reinstating camping bans on sidewalks and within 15 feet of an open business or homes, that it is still directing the state Department of Transportation to clear encampments under bridges.

In recent weeks, he has also said used needles and feces littering the streets pose a serious public health threat.

Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler said, however, there is no public health crisis in the city.

Referring to a report the City Council received from the City Manager, Adler said, “We haven’t seen any greater threat of communicable diseases associated with the change of ordinances.”

Adler added, when Austin Public Health and the Parks and Recreation Department looked into the amount of garbage, needles and feces, they found “there was no measurable increase in feces, syringe needles or garbage.”

“We haven’t created any more people experiencing homelessness in our city, and everybody who’s experiencing homelessness was going to the bathroom somewhere. They’re not going to the bathroom more now than they were before,” he said.

In an interview with the local media Friday, Adler said he doesn’t regret the ordinance changes, but he admitted he didn’t anticipate as many people to come out from their hidden spots to camp in more public places.

“In retrospect, had I known there were going to be that many people coming out, I think I probably would have insisted that we have more beds standing by,” he said.

Ongoing problems under Ben White Boulevard

South Austin residents who live near Ben White Blvd. claim an increase in trash isn’t “an isolated incident, and it’s not anecdotal.”

“I think it became a crisis because of the emboldened attitude. Anything goes. You don’t see wildflowers or any type of flowers across the highways. All you see is trash,” said Cleo Petricek with SAFE Austin for Everyone: SAFE Project.

She said the city should’ve had a plan for trash, access to water and bathroom use before easing restrictions on public camping.

“It’s inhumane with 100 degree temperature for an entire month that we didn’t offer that to the homeless population,” she said.

When it comes to Gov. Abbott’s plans to clear encampments, Petricek said she actually has more questions than answers.

“Where are they going to go?” she said. “It’s obviously common sense. If they clear them out of here, clear and not clean, they have to go somewhere. In the next four to five months, when it’s going to be 30 degree temperature at night, or 20 degrees, they need to be housed in some type of temporary structure.”

The Governor’s Office said it’ll work with shelters in and around Austin, but did not provide further details.

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