Homeless camps fuel feud between Abbott and Austin

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Homeless camps are fueling a feud between Governor Abbott and the City of Austin. It’s been a fight since the Austin City Council relaxed restrictions on sitting, camping, and sleeping – things that were previously banned in many public areas.

The Governor says Austin’s approach is the wrong thing to do. But this week, he cited a possible solution from another Texas city he says is getting it right.

“Probably the best template for this is a strategy that has been developed in San Antonio that I urge all communities to take a look at as the possible best practice. It’s called Haven for Hope,” Abbott said during a Wednesday news conference.

“It’s a big shelter with about a $20-million budget that has done good work,” said Ann Howard. She’s the executive director for ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition in Austin.

“Lots of people from Austin have looked at Haven for Hope,” Howard said. “But it alone does not end homelessness in San Antonio.”

Howard said ECHO is working with Austin city leaders on a long-term strategy to help people who are homeless get off the streets. She said the decision to relax the camping restrictions could help.

“If you get a ticket and you don’t pay it, it becomes a warrant for your arrest,” Howard said, explaining that warrants and arrests can make it more difficult for a person to get off the streets. “By changing these ordinances over time, it should reduce barriers to housing and jobs.”

But relaxing the camping restrictions has made the homeless more visible in many parts of Austin. That’s led to a lot of complaints, including from the Governor.

“Bottom line is that almost any strategy is superior to allowing people to camp out on places like Congress Avenue,” Abbott said.

Howard says the city wants people in homes, not camping on the streets. “Our vision for Austin is a community that’s fiercely dedicated to ending homelessness, Howard said. “And I think we’re becoming that.”

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