AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health told KXAN it plans to send an outreach team to a South Congress neighborhood in response to concerns from neighbors regarding some people experiencing homelessness in the area.
The neighborhood is near the intersection of South Congress Avenue and Crockett Street.
Video from a KXAN viewer shows a fire near a condo complex there. Neighbors said the homeless individuals they reported started the fire.
“Given the safety issues and everything, like the fire, it’s just like a tinderbox, it’s just ready to erupt,” said Laura Ruiz, who lives in the area. She said police have removed individuals from the area before, but they return and are consistently aggressive towards her and her neighbors.
According to Austin Fire Department (AFD) records, the agency responded to the condo complex for “unauthorized burning at a homeless camp,” and firefighters doused the flames.
Ruiz said she’s concerned about what will happen when crowds flock to South Congress for South by Southwest events.
“Oh y’all know, you know it’s going to be a mess,” she said.
Mayor Kirk Watson acknowledged efforts to clean up campsites across the City of Austin ahead of spring events like SXSW.
“We’re working to create the infrastructure so that what can occur is when someone is not available, we say you can’t camp there, the city says you can’t camp there, there are places to go,” he said. “So there’s a coordinated effort to try to make, to be humane and make sure we’re doing what we need to do in regards to the camping ban.”
Antony Jackson with We Can Now, an advocacy group that works with people experiencing homelessness across the city, said in his experience, they’re typically not aggressive.
“But every day, it’s do or die for them,” he said. “Until we as a city and community end homelessness in Austin we’re going to have these types of situations every now and then because for people experiencing homelessness, they’re in a different mode than most people in the community. They’re in survival mode.”
While concerned, Ruiz called this a “heartbreaking issue.”
“I don’t know the answer and thank goodness I’m not the one trying to fix this,” she continued. “But something’s got to give, man.”
APD said it steps in on homelessness-related incidents when there’s a disturbance or people refuse to leave a property. Officers can issue a criminal trespass notice if a property manager or security guard is present and they ask people to leave the property. APD also works with Austin Public Health to connect people experiencing homelessness with the right resources.