Austin Local News
Underpass Cleanups Underway in Austin
For the first time since the Austin City Council relaxed ordinances related to camping and sitting in public, the City of Austin has begun the latest round of underpass cleanups, many of which are now the site of growing homeless camps. However, despite the recent ordinance changes, city officials say the latest cleanings are in no way related. This marks the third time the City of Austin has embarked on one of these cleaning projects following TxDOT's decision to place the responsibiltiy back with the city itself for cleaning its own underpasses, even if they are on state-owned land.
Muhc of the focus this week has been at Highway 183 near Ohlen Road where campsites have become more prevalent in recent days. While cleaning crews with TxDOT would once be very open about the items that were picked up, current cleaning crews have been instructed by Austin city leaders to not to be quite as transparent. However, some of the items seen by KLBJ staff and listeners have reportedly been chairs, numerous bags of trash, and what appear to be discarded needles.
In total, the city will be spending more than $1.5-million to clean 60-65 different camps and underpasses. Along with plans to truck out dumpsters to these homeless camps, the city is also looking to add recycle bins, lockers, and storage areas for homeless people to keep their items.
Since the council's unanimous vote to allow homeless people to sit & lie, the city has been embroiled with controversy as more and more residents and business owners share their stories of how they've been affected. Early this week, a combat veteran in South Austin was attacked by a knife-wielding homeless man who leapt out of the bushes and slashed his arm. And on Thursday, a downtown Austin parking attendant was seen on surveillance footage outside of an office building fighting off an attack from another alleged homeless man. That fight ended in the attacker collapsing against the wall after being hit with a haymaker, only to stumble away from the scene after finally coming to.
(The Camping ordinance change was a 9-2 vote in favor with Councilmembers Kathie Tovo and Allison Alter voting against. it was previously reported that the camping ordinance had the Council's full support.)
And amid it all, the Austin Police Department continues to struggle to adapt to the changes. According to officials with the Austin Police Association, the council's changes to the homeless ordinance are too subjective, meaning some officers are very confused about when and how they're able to address the calls from citizens who are concerned about the visible rise in homelessness across the city.