AUSTIN (KXAN) — Residents in the Park Ridge neighborhood in south Austin are expressing concerns about possible city-sanctioned homeless encampments in their community.
On Saturday, District 2 City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes hosted a town hall at Dittmar Recreation Center.
City Manager Spencer Cronk, Chief Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey and Budget Officer Kerri Lang addressed questions about the city’s budget and homelessness response, as well as the District 2 Office’s anti-displacement and resilience building efforts.
“I got several emails and calls of concern about possible sanctioned encampment sites in areas that are very clearly not suitable,” said Fuentes. “We had neighbors and residents reach out to us saying this site is unsuitable for x, y and z reasons. So part of the process that we did as an office was to meet with residents who raised concerns, and then share that feedback directly with city staff.”
One of the residents expressing her frustrations is Stephanie Lindholm, who lives in the Park Ridge neighborhood, which is located off West Slaughter Lane just west of Interstate 35.
She said there is a homeless campsite behind her backyard in a heavily-wooded area.
“We as neighbors have been struggling with this for three years now. I’ve called in 23 fires just this year, of which maybe two have been put out by the fire department,” Lindholm said. “Last week I mowed my lawn and the smell of meth smoking that was happening was so intense, I threw up.”
Lindholm said noise, safety and trash issues are a growing concern for neighbors, especially after she learned the city had identified about six sites for potential sanctioned homeless encampments in her area.
“There are homeless people that peek through our fence. There’s people smoking. There’s fires; they’re yelling,” explained Lindholm. “It’s just constant, all day, every day, and we can’t be in our backyards.”
The city released a first draft of 45 potential sanctioned homeless encampment sites on May 18, with slightly more than half of those sites in east and southeast Austin. Officials called the release a “snapshot” after reviewing more than 70 sites at first.
But the city delayed the release of approved Austin homeless encampments in June, citing too many restrictions.
“That’s a hard thing to be a homeowner and just a human being and see someone suffering, but to have it be our burden to take when the city says they’re doing so many good things for them — it’s kind of hard to swallow,” said Lindholm.
Fuentes has toured the sites with neighbors and has also talked to people who currently live in encampments there and brought them water. She is concerned there isn’t enough basic infrastructure in her district to properly support people experiencing homelessness.
“We have pockets of District 2 that do not have access to a grocery store and that have very limited public transportation options. When we talk about how we’re going to house our unhoused neighbors, we don’t want to put them in even more vulnerable situations,” Fuentes said.
She is pushing for more supportive housing options. She is also calling for increasing current shelter capacity, which was reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So what I am advocating for are permanent solutions,” Fuentes explained. “How do we get our unhoused neighbors into actual houses that have the support services needed that go with housing. So looking at mental health services, addiction, trauma, counseling, all those things that will help our unhoused neighbors get back on their feet.”
Fuentes continues to encourage neighbors to reach out to her via email, phone or social media with their feedback about the city’s efforts.
She did applaud the city for supporting a plan that came from community stakeholders to reduce homelessness. The plan includes rehousing 3,000 individuals who are experiencing homelessness in the next three years and a $100 million commitment towards reducing homelessness.