Austin appears ready to go down the road of San Francisco by allowing the homeless to pitch tents on public streets. What can possibly go wrong? The NBC affiliate KXAN explains:
“Changes to the way the City of Austin and its police department will handle homeless people go into effect Monday after the city passed an ordinance largely decriminalizing the act of sitting, laying or camping in public places.
“Proponents of the rule change have argued that this will help homeless people break the cycle of homelessness. A city audit report in November of 2017 found that Austin’s policies limiting camping, sitting, or lying in public spaces may make it more difficult for people to leave homelessness because of a criminal record or arrest warrants. The report also suggested that Austin’s current ordinances pose legal risks because of lawsuits faced by other cities with similar policies.”
Police procedures for dealing with homeless people have been changed:
“Under the changes, APD can only arrest or ticket someone who is soliciting, camping, sitting, or lying in a public area if they present a public health or safety hazard or are blocking a walkway. The changes also make all aggressive confrontations offenses under city code, whether they are panhandling or not.”
To use a well-worn phrase, this will not end well. Austin, which has been described as a liberal enclave in a still largely red state, is running the risk of becoming a city like San Francisco or Los Angeles, with city streets littered with drug-addicted homeless people with mental health issues, wallowing in their own filth, shooting heroin as their sole means of recreation. Austin, a charming town with lots of clubs and barbecue eateries, may follow west coast communities to establish neighborhoods indistinguishable from Mumbai or Lagos. Crime and filth have made some areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles too dangerous for ordinary people to enter,
The Republican-dominated state government is not amused. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted an account of a two-car accident caused by homeless people darting into traffic, added, “Look at this insanity caused by Austin’s reckless homeless policy.
“All state-imposed solutions are on the table including eliminating local sovereign immunity for damages and injuries like this caused by a city’s homeless policy.
“The horror stories are piling up.”
Abbott has also threatened to overturn Austin’s ordinance, though that can’t happen until the next legislative session in 2021 unless the governor calls for a special session.
If Abbott moves against Austin, it will not be the first time. Several years ago, the Texas city passed an ordinance that, in effect, banned rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. Because the city has an inadequate taxi industry, instances of drunk driving skyrocketed, So, the Texas state legislature, working with industry, established a statewide ride-sharing regulatory regime. As a result, Texans, including those who live in Austin, can now summon an Uber or Lyft car that will take them where they need to go. Rideshare has proven to be a boon for the elderly, the disabled, or just people who do not care to bear the expense of owning their own vehicle.
How the state legislature will deal with the new folly committed by Austin is open to speculation. Abbott suggests that the state government will simply pass a law that will spell out how the homeless will not be allowed to invade public spaces, bothering people, and generally causing a hazard to safety and health. Cities like Austin may be held responsible for damages caused by madcap policies such as just been passed.
Democrats have been lusting for years to turn Texas from a red state to a blue state. They were encouraged by their success in electing some liberal members to Congress such as Lizzie Fletcher during the 2018 midterm elections. Still, no Democrat has been elected to statewide office since the 1990s, though Beto O’Rourke came uncomfortably close to knocking out Ted Cruz from his Senate seat. However, some local political experts suggest that madcap policies such as Austin’s new homeless ordinance will remind voters of the folly of giving Democrats too much power.