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Austin’s new homeless policy under fire from governor, businesses

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Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square

After Austin’s mayor and the City Council rescinded a ban on homeless encampments in June, a public uproar ensued over a potential public health crisis, and brought national attention to the state’s capital.







Since June, Austin residents have attended numerous town hall meetings, testifying to the harmful consequences of the decision, which allows individuals to sleep in public areas next to residential neighborhoods, elementary schools, businesses and elsewhere.

More than 34,000 Austin residents signed a petition demanding the ordinance be changed.

Their cries echo those of the University of Texas police chief, who wrote an open letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler urging him to reverse the decision “for the sake of students’ security.”







After months of hearings, petitions and protests, the City Council and Mayor Steve Adler took a five-week break, pledging to discuss the issue in September, which didn’t happen. Now the issue of homeless encampments is slated to be addressed Oct. 17.

Homeless encampments have sprung up all over Austin, primarily under the highway overpasses including the Interstate 35 double-decker, which cuts through the heart of Austin blocks away from the state capitol, the University of Texas, and near numerous businesses.







Tired of delays and expressing concerns for citizens, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would “unleash the full authority of every state agency to protect the health and safety of all Texans” if the City Council does not fix the problem by Nov. 1.

“Further inaction by you and the Austin City Council will leave me no choice other than to use the tools available to the state of Texas to ensure that people are protected from health and safety concerns caused by the Austin homeless policies,” Abbott’s open letter to Adler warned.

Abbott’s call came days after U.S. Congressman Chip Roy also sent a letter to the mayor.

“The ordinance is a lazy approach to dealing with homeless individuals in our community,” Roy, who represents most of Austin, said. “The new ordinance undermines security, harms private property of our citizens, hurts commerce, and endangers those it purports to help – the homeless.”

“It is bad enough to essentially give up on the homeless community by encouraging people to set up tents on the streets, but the city council’s new policy also negatively impacts Austin residents, as well as tourists and visitors,” Roy said. “Allowing homeless people to sleep in nearly all public spaces can lead to increased risks of violence, crime, health issues, and other negative consequences.”

“Some businesses are struggling to keep sidewalks clear,” Abbott said at a press conference Wednesday. “Some homeowners feel threatened. Some homeless are interfering with sidewalks, with street and with rights of way. Feces and used needles are accumulated at alarming rates.”

State agencies that would be tasked with cleaning up Austin include the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Democratic Councilman Greg Casar called the letter a threat of “some kind of martial law situation.”

Democrat Councilwoman Delia Garza said Abbott’s “threatening letter and fearmongering about our most vulnerable Texans” was a political ploy designed to score “more political points than, say, reforming gun laws.”

While some people “read this letter as a …threat,” Adler said he took it seriously and chose “to read this letter as an offer of assistance.”

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Austin

VIDEO: Austin police looking for man who threw scooter through back window of vehicle

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APD / Mitch Carney

AUSTIN, Texas — Police are looking for a man who threw a scooter through the back of a vehicle on Wednesday, October 9, at East 7th Street and Brazos Street.

The incident was said to have begun at approximately 9:08 am Wednesday when the victim was driving his vehicle north in the 600 block of Brazos Street.







“As he approached East 7th Street, the suspect crossed in front of his vehicle against the light so the victim was forced to stop,” said an Austin Police Department media release. “The victim honked his horn at which time the suspect approached his vehicle and began punching the hood and yelling obscenities.”

Police said the victim reversed the vehicle to move out of the flow of traffic and got out of his vehicle.

The suspect then began to fight with the victim, according to police.







“The victim pinned down the suspect until he agreed to calm down,” stated the media release. “When he let him up to go back to his car to call 911, the suspect picked up an electric scooter and threw it through his back windshield before fleeing eastbound on 7th Street.

Police attempted to locate the suspect but were unable to after searching the area.







Governor Greg Abbott commented on Twitter about the incident. . .

The suspect is described as a white male, estimated to be somewhere in his late 20’s or early 30’s, was last seen wearing a bright blue shirt, black pants, and black shoes, and was described as having dirty clothes and a foul odor.

Anyone with video of this incident or information about the suspect is asked to call 512-974-5320. You can also submit tips by downloading APD’s mobile app, Austin PD, for free on iPhone and Android.

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