AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin has announced two locations for proposed, city-run homeless camps.
The first preliminary site is a three-acre lot at 3511 Manor Road, just east of Airport Road. The second is a larger lot in southwest Austin at 4011 Convict Hill Road, directly off MoPac.
The locations are far from final. There will be a city council work session to discuss the two sites next Tuesday, July 27. Then public feedback will be welcomed in August through community meetings and surveys via SpeakUp Austin!
Each location was selected for temporary two-year use and was chosen for its proximity to public transportation, access to basic retail services and the likelihood wildfire risk can be mitigated.
The site on Manor Road also benefits from having effective traffic control, can accommodate larger vehicles, has existing utility infrastructure, fencing and covered parking.
The site on Convict Hill Road has a bus line within 15 minutes walking distance, enough space for camping and communal washrooms and an existing building, which can be repurposed for access to utilities.
Neighbors, however, were far from pleased at the announcement.
Debi Hamilton, whose grandparents settled on the property adjacent to the site on Convict Hill Road at the turn of the 20th century, said a new encampment might bring danger to the area. She is concerned it might bring loitering and crime, thereby impacting the nearby neighborhoods which house families, daycares and Covington Middle School.
“My heart goes out to them, and I don’t know the right direction to go, but I don’t think this is it,” Hamilton said. “I just don’t feel this is the right way to do it, to impact me and all the neighbors.”
On the other side of town, Green Sprouts Preschool is only a few hundred feet away from the proposed site on Manor Road.
Director and owner Liz Gelinas sympathized with Austin’s homeless but is concerned the encampment will harm her business and endanger the children. City staff have determined potential encampments cannot be within 300 feet of a school, a distance Gelinas says should be reconsidered.
“I think you need to be more than a mile from a school to find a safe location,” Gelinas said. “We are taking care of young children all day and making sure they are safe. Having a homeless encampment nearby makes me nervous.”
The site is also across the street from the Mueller neighborhood and hike and bike trail, popular for families with young children. Both women say they plan to speak up when the public engagement process begins in August.
“Helping the homeless is important to me,” Gelinas said. “But my ultimate goal and priority is to ensure the safety to these families.”
The Manor Road location falls in Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison’s district.
“At the bottom line, I want to know what this will cost us and will it be worth it,” Harper-Madison said.
The site on Convict Hill Road is in District 8, represented by Paige Ellis.
“A lot of the questions have been about what does fencing look like, will there be on-site security, what social services will be provided. So those are some high-level questions that we certainly need to know the answer to before anything moves forward,” she said.