By MATT MACKOWIAK
I have good news and bad news.
Here is the good news: It appears there are only 11 people in Austin who do not see what a disaster the homeless camping ordinance has become for our city in just two short months.
Here is the bad news: The 11 people are the mayor and the city council.
I don’t know what else city leaders need to see to realize they made a horrendous mistake in allowing homeless people to sleep and camp anywhere in public.
By the time you read this, 30,000 people will have signed our petition to rescind the Homeless Camping Ordinance. That is with zero paid advertising.
The Homeless Camping Ordinance is turning Austin into a dirty city, one that is not welcoming to visitors and tourists, and rendering it unsafe for women and children at night.
Mayor Steve Adler has recently said that the Homeless Camping Ordinance will stay in place until there is sufficient housing for our 2,200 homeless population.
That will take years.
That is totally unacceptable.
Recently the University of Texas Police Chief asked the city to ban homeless camping on the entire campus due to safety concerns.
In response to the public uproar over this unwise policy, the city is planning to ban homeless camping on a few streets (like 6th Street and Congress Avenue) and in high pedestrian areas.
But is this not an admission that homeless camping is unsafe? If it were safe, they wouldn’t need to ban it on certain streets.
The net effect of this minor policy change is that it will make all other streets more unsafe because that’s where the homeless population will go.
Our city spends $30 million a year on homeless programs and city leaders admit past efforts have totally failed. The city is planning to more than double that for 2020 to $62 million.
We have about 800 beds for homeless individuals through all sources and need another 1,400 beds.
Where will they go? How long will it take to build new or retrofit existing buildings?
I am tired of hearing ridiculous arguments from city leaders and advocates.
At a forum last week, an activist on the panel named Chris Harris said ‘Homeless people in your neighborhoods are your neighbors’. This is absurd. They are transients. Neighbors are people who live in a community and pay money to be there.
We all want our homeless population to be safe and receiving care for drug abuse and mental health challenges. Everyone else needs to be working and on a path to self-sufficiency.
Our city leaders are destroying our city’s image. Business meetings and conferences are cancelling. Tourists are expressing horror at what Austin has become. The Austin Police Association say they cannot cite or arrest homeless individuals under the current policy due to confusion over what it means.
Enough is enough.
On Sept. 20, the day after the next City Council meeting where homeless policy is expected to be debated, we will take action.
Along with local Democrat and neighborhood activist Cleo Petricek, we are forming a new nonpartisan nonprofit organization called Save Austin Now.
We will launch a petition drive to ban homeless camping in public for the May 2020 ballot, which is the next opportunity. This will require at least $150,000 and at least 20,000 verified signatures from Austin residents. We will need your help and will ask for it soon.
Please visit SaveAustinNow.com and subscribe to our emails. If you are willing to contribute to our efforts, please do so here.
City leaders are fiddling while Austin burns, and this disastrous policy is getting worse by the day.
It is time for Austin residents to rise up and make their voices heard.
Matt Mackowiak is the co-founder of Save Austin Now, a nonpartisan 501(c)3 organization dedicated to educating Austin residents about standard of living issues. Their website is SaveAustinNow.com.