AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott is putting more pressure on Austin Mayor Steve Adler to fix the "homeless crisis" in Austin.
The Texas governor posted on Twitter Sunday, urging the public to continue sharing safety threats caused by the homeless. Abbott added that he's "working on a plan to clean this up."
Austin's current homeless ordinances allow the homeless in the Austin area to camp, sit and lie in certain public spaces.
If no improvements are made by Nov. 1, Gov. Abbott said in the letter he will direct State agencies to provide for the public health and safety of Austin's residents.
"As the Governor of Texas, I have the responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Texans, including Austin residents,” Gov. Abbott wrote. “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. As a result, I will give you until November 1, 2019, to demonstrate consequential improvement in the Austin homelessness crisis and the danger it poses to the health and safety of the public. If meaningful reforms are not implemented by then, I will direct every applicable state agency to act to fulfill my responsibility to protect the health and safety of Texans in your jurisdiction.”
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy wrote a letter to Adler as well, listing the problems he has with the new policy.
Gov. Abbott laid out strategies that can be used to protect against threats to the public, including:
- The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has broad and sweeping authority across the range of health and human services, including the authority to adopt rules in the areas of communicable disease, sanitation and health protection.
- The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) protects the health of all Texans through the prevention and control of disease and other public health risks using strategies authorized by the Texas Legislature. For example, in the event of a disease outbreak or reported infectious disease, DSHS has authority to conduct investigations and impose control measures applying to specific individuals, property, animals, and area quarantines. Due to a variety of factors, including lack of access to clean water, limited access to healthcare, and environmental and other conditions, the homeless are at a higher risk for contracting certain communicable diseases – including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis. Among other things, homeless Texans are estimated to contract tuberculosis at a rate more than 70 times higher than the general population.
- The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulates the State’s water quality standards. Water quality could suffer if increased human defecation and other waste resulting from Austin’s homelessness ordinance caused elevated concentrations of E. coli in Austin creeks or watersheds. Additionally, in reviewing Austin’s stormwater management plan, TCEQ will insist on seeing a plan that addresses the effects of the crisis resulting from Austin’s homelessness ordinance.
- The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has authority to act statewide – including throughout Austin – to ensure the safety of state employees and those seeking services from the State on or around state-owned or state-leased property. DPS can also enforce the state law prohibiting criminal trespassing. If necessary, DPS will add troopers in Austin areas that pose greater threats. DPS also stands ready to increase security for state agencies that are forced to respond to the homelessness crisis.
- The Department of Transportation, among its powers to ensure the safety of Texas roads and those around or traveling on them, can remove property that may block roadways or endanger public safety.
- The Office of the Attorney General has the authority to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties for violations of Texas statutes and rules requiring abatement of public health nuisances. The Attorney General also has broad legal authority under countless other statutes.
The full letter to Adler can be viewed online.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Adler said he read the letter as an offer of assistance.
Adler said he disagreed with some of what was in the letter, saying there isn't a significantly larger amount of homeless people than there were in May, they are just more visible now.
Adler said instead of threatening the homeless with tickets and arrests, the City should be helping them get off the streets. He said there will be a staff group meeting weekly with the new strategy officers that will help make sure that people are being helped off the streets and that the laws are being enforced.
Adler invited Gov. Abbott to have someone from his office attend these meetings to see firsthand the efforts the City is making. Adler repeatedly said that he would welcome assistance from the State.
"This is a community right now that is locked on the goal of ending homeless," Adler said. "It would be easier, it would happen more rapidly, if we had the state's support."
After Mayor Adler addressed the letter, Gov. Abbott's spokesperson, John Wittman, sent KVUE the following statement:
"The Mayor said nothing about eliminating feces and used needles from streets and sidewalks. That should be disturbing to all Texans. The city must immediately address the public health issue stemming from feces and used needles in public areas.”
Councilmember Leslie Pool released the following statement regarding Gov. Abbott's letter:
"I think we all would appreciate the State – and the feds – stepping up to the plate to provide necessary levels of funding to all Texas cities that are grappling with the challenges of homelessness. He is the governor, after all, and the welfare and health of all who live in this state are his responsibility."
Councilmember Greg Casar also released a statement:
“In the last few months, our city has opened homeless shelters, closed tax loopholes — and we’ve stopped pretending jail is an effective solution to homelessness. We’ve stopped hiding homelessness and because of that, we’re doing more than ever to solve it. If you ask Austin’s main homelessness service provider, we helped more people experiencing homelessness last month than in any other month in memory. But the Governor is choosing not to help, and instead is threatening martial-law-style interventions, in a move right out of the Trump playbook. Should Houston and Dallas — who have more people experiencing homelessness than Austin — also worry about the Governor sending in the state troopers? Should they also be worried about being sued by the attorney general? Instead of threats, I hope the Governor actually steps up and helps. This coming year, the State of Texas is spending a paltry $660,000 on helping with homelessness in Austin — less than one-tenth of what local Austin taxpayers are spending to address these challenges. Austin is done running away from homelessness. The state government could help, instead of continuing to fail us.”
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