At the request of Councilmembers Mackenzie Kelly and Leslie Pool, the city auditor’s office conducted an internal review of the city’s homelessness inventory and found a gaping hole.
“We found that Austin Public Health’s spending on homelessness assistance generally aligns with Council direction and stated priorities,” the report summary reads. “However, there is no complete inventory of agreements and associated spending for the City’s homelessness assistance efforts, and we could not determine the number of these agreements due to limitations with available data.”
Because of the incomplete data, it is unclear how much money is going toward the unaccounted-for contracts.
Austin’s long had a homelessness problem, but in the last two years it’s become a national storyline ever since the city council rescinded its prohibition on camping in most public spaces. Since then, it has bounced around a long winding path to nowhere.
Tens of millions of dollars in city funds have been allocated toward purchasing and renovating multiple defunct hotels and motels that will collectively yield a couple hundred units of housing. While the last official Point in Time (PIT) count conducted showed 2,506 homeless individuals in Austin in 2020, the total homeless population is very much a debated figure. Estimates by various Austin entities range from the PIT total to upwards of 10,000.
But if the PIT count is to be the rule, then the city has spent approximately $70,000 per homeless individual. At this week’s meeting, the council will consider the renewal of a dozen existing contracts for various homeless services.
Since early August, the city has been in Phase IV of its camping ban re-enforcement. The phased approach began after city voters reinstated the public camping ban by a wide margin. Since then, the Texas legislature passed a statewide camping ban and the city has been sued by business owners for its failure to enforce the reinstated camping ban.
The governor and attorney general even threatened Austin with a lawsuit should it not fully enforce the state law.
A month into Phase IV enforcement, the first phase during which arrests may be made, Austin police had cited 26 individuals for offenses related to public camping.
The issue has found itself placed on the back burner recently due to the staffing issues and leadership decisions within the Austin Police Department. Another proposition setting a minimum police staffing level will be on the ballot this November. But the city’s homelessness problem is not going away.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.