AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who has been at the political front of most conversations surrounding homelessness in Austin, sat down Saturday at a Tribune Festival panel to discuss the complicated politics behind the fiery topic.
Adler was joined by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who talked about his city’s success with their homeless shelter.
“We are all part of the same nexus of homelessness issues in Texas,” Nirenberg said. “This is not a city-isolated issue. The challenges we face are regional.”
Governor Abbott has criticized Austin’s homeless strategies in the past saying they should look at how San Antonio handles their homeless population.
Adler said the city had success helping homeless veterans with the Veterans Service Office. He wants the recent homeless initiatives to have the same outcome.
“We should do the same thing with the people who are surrounding the ARCH that we did with the veterans in our community, which is a focused and concentrated effort on those individuals,” Adler said.
Blake Fetterman, Executive Director of the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, and Eva Thibaudeau, CEO of Temenos CDC, were also present for the conversation. Both women have had success in their cities with helping the homeless.
Since 2011, Houston’s downtown homeless population has been reduced by 60%. Thibaudeau said they started reaching out to the people who were most vulnerable and went out to the streets to help the them.
“We saw how quickly we could work and how fast we could house people once we had that urgency and that accountability,” Thibaudeau said.
Fetterman said, since 2015, Dallas has experienced a 40% rise in homelessness and a 300% rise in unsheltered people. She said the easy answer is affordable housing, but is it goes deeper than that.
“The more complex answer is housing alone will not beat the homeless crisis because the needs are so complex,” Fetterman said. “On one hand, it feels pretty easy, but on the other it’s pretty complicated.”
If he could do one thing differently, Adler said it would be to do more earlier. He said it would have been better if they recognized earlier that gentrification is not something they can stop.
“In fact, gentrification is a good thing because gentrification means you’ve reduced crime and you brought in amenities and grocery stores,” Adler said. “But, there is a difference between gentrification and displacement, and displacement does not have to automatically follow from gentrification.”
Adler said the goal to reduce the homeless population is feasible, but a big barrier is lack of community support.
“I would expect that in one to five years we don’t have people camping and laying anywhere in our city because no one wants that for anyone,” Adler said.