AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) – After a 2021 homeless camping ban went into effect, many people in Austin, Texas have left freeways and overpasses, but recent video shows some people becoming crafty.
Video on social media showed a structure under a North Austin overpass near Braker Lane and the MoPac Freeway. It has wooden floors, a large living room and even storage space for bicycles and other supplies.
Homeless advocacy and awareness groups such as ‘We Can Now’ have been providing people with resources and food for years, but after camping was banned, CEO Antony Jackson said many people are going wherever they can find shelter.
“Absolutely, we’ve seen structures like that because it’s still survival,” Jackson said. “We have to understand that these people, our homeless population, is their daily survival. This is the weather they face. It’s food. That is to say hygiene, water, clothes, all those necessary things that we all need as human beings.
“We Can Now” feeds the homeless community once a week. Since the camping ban came into effect, they now go into the woods to serve their customers.
“A lot of people wanted them not to be in public, but that doesn’t solve the problem, so now, as you can see, we have a large population that’s in the woods,” Jackson said.
The Texas Department of Transportation told KXAN that highways and underpasses are not safe places for people.
In 2014, a person living under an underpass near US 183 died after falling 15 feet while sleeping.
Fire can also be a hazard and cause damage to highways. In 2021, an encampment fire damaged a flyover that connects East Ben White Boulevard to I-35 in south Austin.
Austin Police and city partners including Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Austin Resource Recovery and Watershed Protection are enforcing the law and working with those affected. The city’s Homeless Outreach Street Team and Downtown Austin Community Court social workers help ensure that homeless people can access support services.
Meanwhile, as part of the HEAL initiative, designed to address homelessness in Austin, more than 150 people living in the most dangerous encampments have been relocated to rooms in deck shelters owned by the city and related to long-term housing.
The City of Austin and its partner agencies have successfully moved more than 1,700 people into housing and out of homelessness in 2021.
According to TxDOT, the city is responsible for clearing encampments under freeways within the city limits.
Austin Public Works told KXAN they perform cleanings at 58 locations on a monthly rotation. Not all pitches need to be cleaned every month due to the enforcement of the camping ban. Each site in the rotation is monitored monthly.
The city told KXAN there were 602 site cleanups in 2021, and so far in 2022 there have been seven cleanups.