AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Complaints about homeless camps in Austin have reached the Governor. The concerns led Governor Greg Abbott to send a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler. The message: Austin needs to act quickly to fix problems linked to homeless camping.
Abbott took to Twitter Wednesday to announce he sent the letter to Adler. He called the situation a “growing crisis.”
“Feces and used needles are accumulating at alarming rates,” Abbott said. “If Austin does not fix its homeless crisis by November 1st, I will unleash the full authority of every state agency to protect the health and safety of all Texans.”
Mayor Adler responded the next day to Abbott’s letter by hosting a press conference and saying he welcomes the help from the state.
“I look at this letter from the governor and he points out the health services commission might very well be able to bring us assistance in this city and all Texas cities,” Adler said. “I just want you to know how much I welcome that help and support.”
Adler also posted the conference on twitter and said he prays when Austin moves the homeless to where we can’t see them, it’s out of harm and into housing.
“But someone who is homeless and violating no law, presenting no risk, no hazard, not aggressively confronting, not blocking anybody’s reasonable use of public safety is not somebody that we should put in jail or threaten to put in jail or ticket or threaten to ticket,” Adler said. “We should get that person help.”
Homelessness in other Texas Cities
This is not the first time Abbott has criticized Austin’s approach to helping people living on the streets. He said the city should look to San Antonio about how they deal with their homeless population.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg was on a Texas Tribune Festival Panel with Adler where they and other Texas city representatives talked about dealing with homelessness around the state.
“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.”
Austin isn’t the only city facing a homeless crisis, but it’s the only one Abbott is calling out. Dallas has experienced a 40% rise in homelessness and a 300% rise in unsheltered people since 2015, according to Blake Fetterman, Executive Director of the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center.
Texas overall has seen a rise in homelessness. Texas is the fourth largest state for the number of homeless behind California, New York and Florida. According to the federal government’s last count, Texas has experienced an increase of more than 7% in homeless people since last year.
However, the same report also notes Texas has had a decline in the number of homeless veterans, the number of homeless families with children and long-term, since 2007, officials found homelessness in Texas dropped by more than a third.
What can Abbott do?
There are a few things Governor Abbott could do when he says he will use state authority to protect Texans’ health and safety.
The Texas Department of State Health Services could quarantine areas in Austin for public safety and health reasons. The Texas Department of Transportation has the authority to move people and their property out from underneath major high ways like 290 and 183.
Texas Department of Public Safety’s troopers could arrest people for trespassing on private property or for violating health and safety laws.
None of these departments have been told by Abbott to take action, but we will see what happens after Nov. 1.