Texas Gov Generously Offers To Help Austin Homeless. If by 'Help' You Mean 'Leper Colonies.'
Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler threatening a state crackdown on homeless people in the city if Adler doesn't eliminate homelessness in Austin by November 1. The letter comes amid a Republican backlash to changes in city laws aimed at treating homeless folks as people who need housing, not criminals.
At issue is a June decision by the Austin City Council to modify three ordinances that had banned sitting, lying, or camping in public, and which had criminalized panhandling. Republicans and some businesses responded with predictable fury, because don't you stupid liberals understand that homelessness can only be addressed by Getting Tough? Under the revised law, sitting and lying on sidewalks is legal as long as the person doesn't pose a threat to "the health or safety of another person or of themselves" or make "usage of such area unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous." Clearly, that's intolerable, because the real solution to homelessness is to drive them to places where decent people don't have to see them. And to talk about local control until a local government does something Republicans don't like.
The letter is a fine piece of anti-homeless fearmongering, complaining about media reports of "violent" confrontations between businesses and homeless people, and citing instances of "Feces and used needles" piling up all over Austin "at alarming rates."
Abbott outlines a number of Austin Shitty Limits he might impose, naming several agencies he might deploy to "protect against threats to public health and safety" from homeless people. The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) might have to be sent in, because anyone without a home is probably all DISEASED AND FILTHY.
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.
Fact Check: That probably has more to do with the relatively low rate of tuberculosis in the general population. Texas DSHS statistics actually list homelessness as the least prominent of six risk factors that increase TB rates.
Note that "having homeless people around" is not on the list. Might not be a good idea to call too much attention to this, though, lest Abbott call for the incarceration of all foreign-born Texans.
Here's a wacky idea: Maybe instead of arresting people for being poor, homeless, addicted, or mentally ill, it might be a good idea to provide them housing and health care? We especially like the bit decrying people's "limited access to healthcare," from the guy who's leading a multi-state lawsuit to eliminate Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, there's not a single word about providing assistance with housing or social services to people experiencing homelessness, because force is how you have to deal with poor people. Helping people is expensive, while sending state troopers to clear the streets is free.
How would Abbott address the "public health" issues related to homelessness? His letter points out the DSHS could always "impose control measures applying to specific individuals, property, animals, and area quarantines." So yeah, let's have some QUARANTINE CAMPS. And seize homeless people's dogs, we guess.
Adler responded to the letter in a press conference Wednesday, saying that he certainly welcomed the governor's offer of state assistance if Abbott really wants to help people. It was pretty good rhetorical jujitsu.
"This is a community right now that is locked on the goal of ending homelessness," Adler said. "It would be easier, it would happen more rapidly if we had the state's support and I would welcome that assistance."
Adler specifically referenced cleaning up encampments near overpasses or providing portable toilets for individuals experiencing homelessness. He added that Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley said the city's police department does not need additional resources to enforce ordinances regarding public defecation, aggressive confrontation and trespassing [...]
"I recognize the angst and concern that is happening in our community now as homelessness is becoming increasingly visible," he added. "But we didn't create more people experiencing homelessness. We see it now. And I am told that because we are seeing them more now, the support groups of the city are now able to give assistance and help to more people than they have ever been able to do before."
Not surprisingly, a spokesperson for Abbott went straight to complaining that Adler wasted too much time talking about helping people, and what about all the feces, Mr. Mayor, WHAT ABOUT THE FECES? In an email to local teevee station KVUE, Abbott mouthpiece John Wittman wondered WHAR GIT TUFF ON POO NEEDLES?
"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."
Austin City Council members seem not to get the point that this is about joining Donald Trump in slamming Democrats in the runup to the 2020 elections, and released statements talking about "helping people," as if that were of any value. Councilmember Leslie Pool said maybe actually addressing the needs of people without housing would be a better idea, noting that Abbott "is the governor, after all, and the welfare and health of all who live in this state are his responsibility." Well yes. The people who might get tuberculosis from seeing someone on a sidewalk, for instance.
Councilmember Greg Casar correctly identified Abbott's real motive:
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 [...]
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.
See? Not a word about feces or needles. When are do-nothing Democrats going to realize that the solution to homelessness is panic and cops?
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