AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department said 311 calls about homeless encampments have dramatically increased from about 25 calls per week earlier this year to about 90 calls per week now.
More people were moved away from streets and sidewalks after voters brought back the city’s public camping ban in May.
“We are actually seeing movement of people experiencing homelessness into wooded areas,” said Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey. “And that includes our parklands.”
The Parks Department (PARD) said based on 311 calls, at least 59 of the city’s 314 parks, or 19%, have encampments right now.
Camping on parkland is illegal, and it was illegal when the public camping ban was lifted. The department said it visits each site where people report activity, lets individuals experiencing homelessness know what they’re doing is illegal and tries to connect those individuals to services.
Between May and July of this year, PARD crews visited multiple encampments to take inventory of the area and share the message that camping in parks is illegal, the department said.
As the city and its partners try to leverage private dollars for an ambitious goal of housing 3,000 people in the next few years, PARD indicated many people simply have no other place to go.
“Unfortunately, without any supportive housing for individuals experiencing homeless, many make their way to parkland,” said a department spokesperson.
According to the latest Parks and Recreation Board Director’s report, city parks crews and the Other Ones Foundation collected 255,606 pounds (127.8 tons) of debris from parkland campsites in Fiscal Year 2021. That’s enough trash to fill a line of dump trucks parked bumper to bumper for half a mile, according to the report.
PARD works with a contractor for cleanups. A contract to clean up the Country Club Creek Greenbelt will cost the city between $125,000 and $195,000, according to the Board Director’s report. The job began Nov. 16 and was expected to take three weeks.
Another job will take more time. The Parks Department spokesperson said a second site cleanup is expected to take months to complete. They did not name the site.