The City of Austin is trying to move quickly to find places to establish sanctioned encampments on city or donated private land for the people who were camping all over the city until Proposition B passed, making those camps illegal.
According to KVUE, this comes after a City memo, released on Tuesday, June 1st, in which "Austin's homeless strategy manager told the mayor and city council members they should loosen some of the restrictions on sanctioned homeless encampments so more City-owned land could work for an approved homeless camp."
"If I were to apply all the base criteria and the secondary criteria, it would severely limit all the options available for city-owned land," said Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley, KVUE reports.
This after the City Manager's office came up with 45 possible locations, until many of those were ruled out with the various restrictions mentioned by McNeeley. The Texas Legislature recently passed a bill banning the use of all park land for sanctioned homeless camps.
KVUE goes on to report that Black leaders in Austin have criticized the City's list of potential campsite locations. These leaders point out that six of the 45 recommended areas for campsites are in flood plains, and nine are on landfills. Their concerns include the fact that the majority of the original 45 locations are on the Eastside, which is traditionally Black and Hispanic.
Of additional concern to many is that sanctioned camps and supportive permanent housing may be located in areas wihout wrap-around services. Locations that are far from hospitals, social services, mental health facilities and other support don't provide what is needed to actually end homelessness, rather than simply remove homeless people from visibility, according to critics.
Candlewood hotel near Pecan Park and Anderson Mills is an example of such an area, according to neighborhood activists and some officials of Williamson County. They're against making Candlewood supportive permanent housing. There's only one bus line, and Integral Care which supplies much of the support to such communities is difficult for the potential residents to reach. The original plan was to house 50 people who are experiencing chronic homelessness there, with only two social workers. After much protest from close by neighbors and businesses, that plan has changed.
Austin City Council currently proposes, in the resolution for agenda item 89, to use Candlewood for women who are victims of domestic violence, and their children. Candlewood activists want a written agreement that it will be used for that. While supportive of housing women and children there, neighbors and nearby small business owners say they are still concerned about the lack of nearby services.
Williamson County has offered to sell other land that is closer to wrap-around services, but so far the City of Austin hasn't taken them up on that. If they were to do so, support services could be provided by Bluebonnet Mental Health, located in Williamson County and closer to Candlewood hotel than Integral Care located in Travis County.
A source with the activists against housing the chronically homeless at Candlewood reiterates that their biggest concern is lack of wrap-around services. They call the incomplete plans for the hotel "An encampment site that's disguised as a hotel. Without wrap-around services and adequate transportation, it's not humane."