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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Threatens To Intervene In Austin’s 'Homelessness Crisis'

Marjorie Kamys Cotera
The Texas Tribune
Tents set up near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or ARCH, in downtown Austin on Aug. 2, 2019.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott presented Austin and its Mayor Steve Adler with an ultimatum Wednesday: “Demonstrate consequential improvement in the Austin homelessness crisis” by Nov. 1 or the state will step in.

In a press release announcing the warning, Abbott's office lamented reports of “violence, used needles, and feces littering the streets of Austin and endangering Texas residents.” The situation has drawn the ire from a number of Republican officials, after the city passed an ordinance that allows sitting and camping in public.

“As the Governor of Texas, I have the responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Texans, including Austin residents,” Abbott wrote in a letter to Adler. “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.”

Austin officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

If there’s no change by Nov. 1, the governor laid out several strategies the state can utilize. Those agencies include the Health and Human Services Commission, which has the authority “to adopt rules in the areas of communicable disease, sanitation and health protection,” Abbott said. The Texas Department of Public Safety, he warned, 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,” Abbott said.

This is not the first time Abbott has railed against the city's policy. In June, he threatened to override the ordinances. Saying that “the horror stories are piling up,” he also shared a tweet that wrongly linked a car accident to a group of people experiencing homelessness running into traffic.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, sent his own letter to Adler condemning the city's ordinance. In his letter, he called the policy a “lazy approach to dealing with homeless individuals in our community.” The congressman closed the letter by asking the city to collaborate with local organizations to provide resources, like beds, and work toward identifying permanent housing and employment opportunities for the homeless community.

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Alex Samuels is a reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune and a journalism senior at The University of Texas at Austin. She came to the Tribune in fall 2016 as a newsletters fellow, writing the daily Brief and contributing to the water, education and health newsletters. Alex previously worked for USA Today College as both a collegiate correspondent and their first-ever breaking news correspondent. She has also worked for the Daily Dot where she covered politics, race, and social issues.