First list of potential homeless campsites stirs up a stir

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The city council weighed in on an initial list of 45 city-owned properties that could potentially serve as campsites for people experiencing homelessness on Tuesday, embarking on the logistically and politically charged process of deciding whether it There was a need to create a campsite in each of the council’s 10 districts, as proposed earlier this month.

Although the Council previously rejected campsites, members now see them as a way to provide for the displaced by the camping ban reinstated a safe alternative to camping in the woods and streams.

Finding the exact locations will be easier said than done. As soon as the list was released early Tuesday, concerned voters flooded the inboxes of Council members with emails.

“It will be difficult to locate them,” admitted Mayor Steve Adler. “But I think there must be a list at some point to start.”

The list is preliminary and subject to change – something that Council members and city staff have repeatedly emphasized.

“Nowhere have we made a commitment to a) do any of these things; or b) we do 10, ”said Alison Alter, Board member.

City workers have until July 1 to narrow the list. Council members will then decide on the number of sites and their exact location – if they don’t completely abandon the plan.

Campsites will have basic amenities like water and electricity, toilets, lighting, waste services and security, and would be conveniently located near grocery stores and public transportation. Other services such as laundry are also possible but would add to the costs.

Here is a map of the preliminary list.

Although the properties are scattered throughout the city, eastern and central Austin – particularly Council Districts 1, 3, and 9 – have a higher concentration of sites.

There were also several unspecified locations that weren’t included on the map: Colony Park, Tannehill Lane, Levander Loop, Walnut Creek / Havens, and the Eco-Park at FM 973.

As staff members work to eliminate inappropriate properties, more may be added, including private sites or properties owned by other government entities. Council member Kathie Tovo asked community members to suggest sites.

Tuesday’s meeting highlighted how difficult it will be to keep up with the plan.

Council members took most of the time nixing potential locations, such as those in parks, recreation centers, or near fire-prone land.

Although city staff members have already removed 30 of the 75 properties that were originally on the list, the remaining 45 had not been screened for their potential to cause forest fires or harm the forest. wildlife.

“There is still a lot of assessment to be done,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley. “It was the first blush.”

Council member Pio Renteria hit a spot that had been included with seemingly little thought. “Don’t bother looking at this – it’s Evergreen Cemetery,” he said of a site staff members had labeled 1311 Tillery Street. “I know you didn’t want to put camping in a graveyard.”

Council members also feared that the campsites, which are intended to be temporary, would become difficult to dismantle once set up – a problem other towns have faced. The Council’s three-year goal is to provide housing to anyone who is homeless within 30 days, making campsites unnecessary. Permanent Campsites could also dig a hole in the city’s homeless budget in perpetuity, putting housing funds at risk.

“(The costs) are quite high for this type of temporary investment,” said Board member Ann Kitchen. “The thing we need to be careful about is maintaining our focus on more permanent housing and not diverting a lot of funds to temporary settlements like this.

A 50-person campsite is expected to cost $ 1,368,800 per year, according to one noteand a 100 person campsite could cost $ 1,870,400 per year. Homelessness Policy Officer Dianna Gray admitted these were conservative estimates. Small campsites are probably out of the question, she said, due to economies of scale.

Public relations have already proven to be tricky. Council members said they received a flood of voter comments within hours of the list’s release and some voters mistakenly believed the locations to be final.

“I urge you to really, really, really communicate too much about this issue to find out what’s going on,” Adler told City Manager Spencer Cronk.

There have been so many comments that the city plans to direct them to a single email address.

Despite concerns, no member of the Council has explicitly opposed the entire plan. Progress on the plan will depend on whether Council members agree to the exact locations in their districts – a potentially difficult political pill to swallow. Some council members have also indicated that they will step down if not all 10 districts have campsites.

“There will never be the perfect location,” Adler said. “But I’m glad we’ve started this process, and I think we have to work our way through it.”

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