Neighbors say homeless camps growing on Riverside Drive medians


AUSTIN (KXAN) — People in southeast Austin are reporting an increase in homeless camps on the medians east of I-35.

Austin Police officials say they have received an increase in complaints from the community, but there is not much they can do.

The medians on East Riverside Drive are considered public spaces, so unless there is a health or safety hazard, these people are allowed to camp here.

“If it’s not hazardous to them or to anybody else, then our hands are pretty much tied,” said Lieutenant Francisco Rodriguez, who manages APD patrol units in the Henry Sector, which encompasses Riverside Drive.

Neighbors KXAN spoke to said it makes them uncomfortable.

“I would not walk up and down Riverside by myself, whether it’s in broad daylight or at nighttime,” said one 22-year-old who lives in the area and attends nearby St. Andrews.

“There’s parts just off the thoroughfare that have full-blown structures. I’m talking about walls, 2x4s, the whole nine yards,” said Joey Cruz, who has lived on Riverside for eight years.

The explosion of camping on Riverside is more than just an eyesore for neighbors, they say there is more trash than ever in the area and beside the roads.

“Within the last couple of weeks, the trash and the leftover stuff has really increased,” Cruz said.

Others shared that they no longer walk to the nearby HEB or have stopped running by the lake due to the increase in homeless activity.

“I feel for them. I’m sad that they are in that situation. I wish we had a better option for them, but one of the things that is not a very good option is for them to camp out in such a visual and public place,” Cruz said.

Austin police recently formed a new team called RISE, which targets problematic and high crime areas. There’s a group specific for Riverside Drive.

These members work to address chronic issues, rather than going to each 911 call.

“We’re getting more complaints about quality of life,” Lt. Rodriguez said. “For the people of this community, there’s little I can do for them and it’s a shame.”

Citywide Concern

New numbers from Austin’s 311 line seem to show concerns over the homeless may be dropping.

Between August and October, at least 375 people called the city with a service request tied to the homeless. But in November, the number dropped to 84.

It comes after Austin City Council changed its camping ordinance. In late October, they banned camping on sidewalks and near homes and businesses.

In early November, Governor Greg Abbott brought in state resources to help clean up. TxDOT has targeted camps under bridges throughout Austin.

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