AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the homeless camping ban went into effect in 2021, many people experiencing homelessness moved out from under the highways and overpasses, but a recent video of a structure under a north Austin overpass is highlighting a hidden population.
Video on social media showed the structure near Braker Lane and MoPac Expressway. It has wood floors, a storage area for bikes and other supplies, it also has a large living area.
Homeless advocacy and outreach groups like “We Can Now” have offered resources and food to people for years, but after the camping ban, CEO Antony Jackson said many people are going wherever they can to find shelter.
“Absolutely we have seen structures like that because it is still survival,” Jackson said. “We have to understand that these people, our unhoused population, it is survival for them every single day. This is weather they are up against. That is food. That is hygiene, water, clothing, all of those necessary things that we all need as human beings.
“We Can Now” feeds the homeless community once a week. They used to set up near East Cesar Chavez Street, but since the camping ban went into effect they are now going into the woods to serve their clients.
“A lot of people wanted them to not be out in the public, but that doesn’t fix the problem so now as you can see we have a large population that are in the woods,” Jackson said.
The Texas Department of Transportation tells KXAN highways and underpasses are not safe places for people to live.
In 2014, a person living under a highway underpass near U.S. 183 and Great Hills Trail died after they fell 15 feet while sleeping.
Fire can also be a danger and cause damage to the highways. In 2021, a fire at an encampment caused damage to a flyover that connects East Ben White Boulevard to I-35 in south Austin.
APD and city partners including Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Austin Resource Recovery and Watershed Protection, are enforcing the law and working with the people who are impacted. The city’s Homeless Outreach Street Team and Downtown Austin Community Court social workers are helping to make sure individuals experiencing homelessness can access support services.
Meanwhile, under the HEAL Initiative, designed to address unsheltered homelessness in Austin, more than 150 people living in the most unsafe encampments have been relocated to rooms at city-owned bridge shelters and linked to long-term housing.
The City of Austin and its partner agencies successfully moved more than 1,700 people into housing and out of homelessness in 2021.
According to TxDOT, the city is in charge of cleanup of encampments under highways in city limits.
Austin Public Works tells KXAN they conduct cleanings at 58 locations on a monthly rotation. Not all locations need cleanings each month due to enforcement of the camping ban. Each site in the rotation is checked each month.
The city tells KXAN there were 602 site cleanups in 2021, and so far in 2022, there have been seven cleanups.
“We Can Now” says they will continue to work with the homeless population even with the challenges they are facing. They are always looking for volunteers and donations.