Gov. Abbott asks Austinites to post photos, safety threats related to city’s homeless

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Governor Abbott ramped up his social media campaign on City of Austin leaders and specifically Austin Mayor Steve Adler over the weekend.

On Twitter, Julie Nowlin posted a security camera picture, writing, “August 19th 2019 daughter and I accosted by a homeless man in Hair Salon. Jeweled Salon at 2819 San Jacinto which is across the street from UT.”

Abbott responded online, “Thanks for this input. Everyone in the Austin area: Continue to post public safety threats and pictures showing unsafe conditions that demand action. Tag @MayorAdler. Include the date and location. I’m working on a plan to clean this up & need to know where to prioritize.”

Abbott’s office confirms this information will be used if state agencies move into Austin November 1st.

A scan through the responses Monday show mixed results, many opinions, about 2/3rds are pictures of homeless camps, sleeping outside and panhandling – now legal – and then about 1/3 are pictures of homeless people going to the bathroom in plain view.

Many people chimed in on their opinions of Austin’s policy of allowing people to camp, sit, panhandle and sleep in public.

But do these public watchdogs help the city? Staff for the Austin Police Department says officers do respond to social media posts but they prefer the old fashioned way, calling 9-1-1.

Advocates supporting Austin’s policy view this as simply campaign work, state Republicans campaigning against city democrats.

“This is now the approach they’re going to take for 2020 to try and scare people. This time around it’s the issue of homelessness,” said Chris Harris, from the Homes Not Handcuffs Coalition, who compared this effort to Republicans campaigning against a “migrant caravan” before the 2018 election.

Harris also noticed the threat of state intervention from Abbott has not come with funding to house people.

Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Adler last week, writing if the homeless situation in Austin doesn’t get better by Nov. 1, Abbott will direct state agencies to step in and help: the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Health and Human Services Commission and the Department of State Health Services.

Harris also told KXAN he hopes the attention galvanizes Texans to solve the chronic homelessness problems in major American cities.

“I think everybody wants to see people housed and not having to live outside. So we share that concern,” said Harris.

The next city council meeting with homelessness on the agenda is October 17th. There doesn’t seem to be the votes at this point to reverse the current city of Austin policy. Then there’s that November 1st deadline from Governor Abbott and possible state action.

Harris says City staff could provide more public bathrooms for people, or more coordination on trash pickup and storage lockers – to smooth the transition.

Austin has been embroiled in discussion and controversy over homelessness since June when the Austin City Council allowed homeless people to sit, sleep and camp in many public areas around Austin.

Mayor Adler responded to Abbott’s threat of state intervention, welcoming massive help from the state last week.

“I look at this letter from the governor and he points out the health services commission might very well be able to bring us assistance in this city and all Texas cities,” Adler said. “I just want you to know how much I welcome that help and support.”

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