AUSTIN, Texas -- As state officials begincleaning up homeless camps, they are still trying to figure out how to deal with the growing crisis.
Joseph Nichols organized his belongings on Monday morning underneath State Highway 71. Others scrambled to take down their tents and pack up their things ahead of the scheduled cleanup.
Theyre basically, OK, you want it that way? Then, thats the way itll be. Well go to the woods, said Nichols.
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Nichols moved back to Austin in February after making stops in Arizona and Kentucky. He first moved to the city in 2011 but struggled to get a job. Faced with a slew of health issues and a lack of money, he found himself on the streets.
I did OK at times, but I never really got to that point where I had enough funds to get through a months living. If I had a months living, I wouldve had a couple of paychecks, and I wouldnt be at this situation, said Nichols.
As Austin tries to grapple with how to deal with the cityshomelessness crisis, it began cleaning up a growing number of camps amidhealth and safety concerns.
In July, the city council passed an ordinanceallowing homeless people to camp on public streets as long as they do not pose a threat to themselves and others. The action sparked an immediate backlash.
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I live down the street here. And, everyone asks me what the hell happened here. Its pretty disgusting. I dont think its safe for the people that live there, said residentJeff Crawford.
Theyre basically a nuisance. They come in here and try to hang out and not buy anything, added John Wood, who works at a convenience store not far from several homeless sites.
For months, Texas Gov. GregAbbottsparred with city leadership over the move. Citing concerns of violence, used needles, and feces littering the streets, he penned a letter to Mayor Steve Adler last month, demanding them to take action by November or the state would step in.
Meanwhile, Adler has fought back against those reports, saying the city is not seeing an increase in syringes or feces. The mayors office addedthe city does routine cleanings and welcomes outside efforts. Adler said the city is focused on housing, not hiding.
Certainly, [housing] prices have been going up in Austin.The ordinance that we passed didnt create more people experiencing homelessness. It did make people that were experiencing homelessness more visible, said Adler.
Cities throughout the country have struggled with the issue of homelessness. Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco have seen spikes in homelessness in the midst of rising housing costs and lack of affordable housing.
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Its unclear how often TxDOT will be conducting the cleanups. The agency did not return e-mails or phone calls for comment. In the meantime, on fliers posted underneath the overpasses, TxDOT listed several shelters where the homeless can seek help.
However, Adler said the shelters have been and are already full.
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Nichols said what theyre looking for is a real solution, not a Band-Aid.
This tactic of flushing them away isnt working, its not going to work for them, Nichols said. Its not going to work for the state or the city.B: