Austin moves homeless campers under Highway 290 and Menchaca Road to transitional housing

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some homeless campers were cleared out from under the Highway 290 and Menchaca Road overpass on Tuesday and taken to the Rodeway Inn, a city-run transitional shelter in south Austin.

These people will be offered a shelter, shower, bed and three meals a day as part of the city’s “Southbridge Program,” an invite-only temporary housing opportunity which will connect people to case workers to find rapid rehousing options across the city.

James Vance, who had lived beneath the highway for several months, said he was informed on Sunday, and moved on Tuesday, after agreeing to the rules: a strict midnight curfew and no guests, drugs, alcohol or smoking in the room. Anyone who doesn’t show up for 48 hours, Vance said, would not be allowed to come back.

“I’m going to take advantage of it,” Vance said. “You cannot get any peace here. You can’t sleep; you can’t rest. You have to be alert, and if you are not, you are going to get ripped off or attacked. That’s the way it is.”

KXAN asked city officials for an update on the enforcement of Prop B, including the citation and arrest totals and the ongoing efforts to transition people to the Rodeway Inn. The Homeless Strategy Office decline to comment and said it will be answering those questions and providing video to news outlets on Wednesday.

Only one half of the underpass was cleared out by Tuesday evening. Those living on the other side said they will be moved on Wednesday morning. Rodney Willard, who had been living at the location for nine months, said he also received his invite to a bridge shelter on Sunday.

“The second I get into that hotel, I’m going to look for a job,” 60-year-old Rodney Willard said, a former carpenter by trade. “I just want a job, save me a little money, so I can put up my girl.”

Mark Hilbelink, the director of the nearby Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, said this intersection was prioritized due to its high risk of danger with two ways of ongoing traffic. He called Tuesday’s transition to the Rodeway Inn a “victory” but questioned whether these campers were of the most urgent need for transitional housing.

He said the decision to provide stable housing to those simply due to their geographical location isn’t the strategy most often recommended by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“There are advocates and critics of this particular method. The federal government…. really pushes communities to prioritize based on vulnerability. And as a provider of homeless services, I think our preference is always to house the most vulnerable,” Hilbelink said. “For the people who live here, it’s obviously a great thing. I do believe there is a kind of excitement and hopefulness, because there is somewhat of a light at the end of the tunnel for them.”

According to a sign posted on the emptied median with the City of Austin seal, no new campsites or occupants are allowed at the location effective Tuesday, July 13. All personal property must be moved, stored or disposed of by Friday, July 16. No public camping will be allowed starting Friday as well.

Reach KXAN’s Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at (512) 703-5365 or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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