AUSTIN (KXAN) — People in South Austin say they’re afraid, unable to go shopping or walk to school because of a growing homeless camp.
On Friday, police admitted the homeless population has exploded across the city and they’re struggling to get a handle on it.
“They do everything they can to get by,” said Montrell Curtis. He lives in South Austin and has seen the homeless population grow firsthand.
“We can’t afford to get into a house. So we sleep where we can,” said Tigger Graham, who lives in a homeless camp.
“This is something we really have to get a handle on,” said Sara Hensley, the interim assistant city manager for the City of Austin.
KXAN heard from viewers, who said the homeless camp near Ben White Boulevard and Lamar Boulevard in South Austin has become a problem.
“At the end of the day, they are homeless. Where can they go?” Curtis said.
Graham, who’s been living on the road for years, camps underneath the highway. And he’s not the only one.
“13, 14, 15, maybe 20, 30 people,” Tigger counted as he looked over the camp he typically lives during the winter.
The City of Austin’s interim assistant city manager, Sara Hensley, said she’s working hard to find solutions.
“This is a city council that has listed homelessness as the number one priority to address,” Hensley said.
She’s gathered together police, EMS, businesses and non-profits, among others, to figure out how they can prioritize where help is needed most.
She said the city council has also allocated three million dollars towards the 2019 budget which will be used to solve homeless issues.
“Here is what we can do, here’s how we can do it. There are no guarantees! But this is what we believe through our research and work with our partners that can make a huge dent in this,” Hensley said.
Hensley said slowly but surely, these people will get the help they need to take them off the streets.
“This is not an issue that can be solved. But it’s something we can put a huge dent in.”
The city also plans to hire a strategist to work full-time on solving the homeless issue in Austin. That person will speak to both community members and city-wide stakeholders to figure out which areas need to be prioritized moving forward.
Statement from your District 5 Councilwoman
We reached out to City Councilwoman Ann Kitchen, because she represents this area.
She gave us a statement pointing to efforts to connect people to housing and mental health; increased trash pick-up; as well as targeted police patrols. But she did say more needs to be done.
You can find her entire statement below.
Hiring the Homeless
In October, the city launched a program to hire people experiencing homelessness to earn money while cleaning up the city. Some tasks include clearing overgrowth and debris along bridges and trails, cleaning up graffiti, and soon walking dogs at the Austin Animal Center.
Workers are given rides to work sites, lunch, and counseling services that include help with housing, mental health, finances, job training, and placement.
Healing the Homeless
And last month, UT’s Dell Medical School, Integral Care, and Community Care Collaborative received a federal grant to bring a mobile healthcare clinic to people who are homeless.
The money will fund supplies, evaluations, and a mobile team of full and part-time employees.
Medical professionals who already work with the homeless say that many aren’t showing up in clinics, and wind up in the emergency room if they have a problem.
The grant is for 5 years and will focus on helping those people who have a mix of chronic illness, mental health, and substance abuse problems.
Frustrations over a growing homeless population within city limits has prompted action from police and city council members.
On Friday, a member of the Austin Police Department said the homeless population within the city has “exploded.”
KXAN received several complaints from viewers about a homeless camp living under the highway off of Ben White Boulevard and Pack Saddle Pass in South Austin.
Ann Kitchen, the city council member of District 5, released this statement over the homeless population in her district, saying: “I share the frustration of D5 neighbors – no one is pleased with what is a serious public safety and human service challenge.”
“The City Council has taken some steps to combat homeless issues like (1) improved services aimed at connecting people to housing and mental health; (2) increased trash collections; and (3) targeted police patrols. That said, much more has to be done to address what is a huge, growing problem for the city. I expect the city to take action this Spring, for example, to create immediate temporary housing,” said Kitchen.
Our team investigated the area in question and talked to the people living homeless camp. We caught up with residents in the area, city council members and dropped by the home of the assistant city manager to find out what long-term solutions are being developed.
Make sure you tune in to KXAN News at 10 for the full report.