AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin officially started moving homeless campers to temporary transition-shelters during phase three of its public camping ban. Officials warn capacity at those shelters is limited.

It’s part of the Austin City Council-led HEAL initiative, which prioritizes four separate areas based on its health and safety needs. Twenty campers from the Terrazas Library have already been placed in the Southbridge shelter on Interstate 35, and another 40 were moved on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Evan Maddemma packs his belongings into a bin provided by the City of Austin (Grace Reader, KXAN)
Evan Maddemma packs his belongings into a bin provided by the City of Austin (Grace Reader, KXAN)

As Evan Maddemma loaded his belongings into a purple bin provided by the city Wednesday, he said he was looking forward to the move.

“It’s better than being here,” he said before getting on a CapMetro bus near the 290 and Menchaca Road overpass. “I’ll be indoors and everything, away from the traffic.”

Another man told us he had “nowhere else to stay.”

This is the second day KXAN has seen city staff and police in the Highway 290 and Menchaca Road overpass area. Tuesday we watched as they cleared out the other side of the street.

What happens next?

Last month, Austin City Council voted to allocate $106.7 million of the American Rescue Plan Act to expand housing for people seeking shelter and resources.

This week, homeless campers are being moved to a 75-bed temporary shelter in south Austin.

Lester Coker is one of those people and said this is the first time he’s had safe refuge in five years.

“It feels like I’ve died and went to heaven,” he said. “I almost felt like this has to be a lucid dream, it’s almost too good to be true.”

The transitional shelter requires residents to follow strict rules in exchange for social services, room and board and three meals a day.

Coker told us those rules won’t be an issue for him, and he’s not going to throw away an opportunity that gets him off the streets.

More options in the works

A spokesperson for the City of Austin said the transition-shelter has only 10 rooms vacant after Wednesday’s pickup. They expect those rooms to be filled by Thursday.

They also noted even though the shelter is nearing capacity, the plan is for people to shift to permanent housing, which opens up rooms down the line.

City of Austin officials keep track of people they're moving off the streets.
City of Austin officials keep track of people they’re moving off the streets (Grace Reader, KXAN)

“We simply have to acknowledge that our community does not have thousands of available shelter beds,” Dianna Grey, the homeless strategy officer for the City of Austin, said.

A second, 55-room bridge shelter is set to open in mid-August. The city and city council are still working to find properties that can be used as sanctioned encampments and other hotels that can be used as permanent supportive housing.

Austin Police Department’s role

Meanwhile, Austin Police Department officers have continued to comb the city asking for voluntary compliance with Prop B before they have to issue citations and eventually make arrests.

Since May 11, when the public camping ban took effect, the city said Austin police have visited more than 530 people experiencing homelessness across Austin. APD initiated its first enforcement operation on the Hike & Bike Trail on Tuesday. They reported 21 written warnings but no citations.

Officers have reportedly connected 122 people with social support during their outreach, including getting veterans to Veterans Affairs.

Before and after

Around 9 a.m. Wednesday, the City of Austin showed up to a campsite at the Highway 290 and Menchaca Road overpass area and began clearing people out. Our cameras captured that process.

Less than nine hours later we returned to that same spot, which was completely cleared out. The 72-hour notice which appears to have been posted by the city is the only remnants of a camp.