AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler admitted the City of Austin made mistakes when it ended the city’s camping ban two years ago and explained Tuesday what it should have done instead during a lengthy interview on the podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
Homelessness has been in the spotlight recently, with the majority of Austin voters choosing to reinstate the city’s camping ban, which makes it a criminal offense — a Class-C misdemeanor punishable by a fine — if you sit, lie down, or camp on public property.
The stated goal of the reinstated camping ban is to end the tent cities that have popped up across Austin. Adler said the camping ban is not a real solution. While it moves people out of sight, he says it won’t actually solve the larger, underlying problem.
Mayor Adler admits the city made mistakes when it ended the camping ban
Rogan, a comedian and a podcast host known for having millions of followers and interviewing people from all walks of life, is an Austinite himself.
After voters in the largely liberal city overwhelmingly reinstated the city’s camping ban, Rogan asked Mayor Adler if he thinks the city made any mistakes. Adler said they did.
In the wide-ranging 1 hour and 18 minute interview, Adler explained what the city should have done differently when it largely decriminalized camping and panhandling two years ago.
“The mistake that we made, is that when we did something that meant people were going to come out of the woods and the streams, we should have identified at that point where people could go and not go,” Adler said. “And we didn’t do that. We didn’t manage the public spaces, the shared spaces, the way that we should have.”
How do you help the homeless without encouraging that lifestyle?
Rogan said places like San Francisco have tolerant policies for homelessness, which might encourage people who are homeless to move there. He asked Adler about the “fine line” between helping and encouraging a lifestyle.
“They prefer this sort of vagabond lifestyle. Is there a line that you have to make sure you don’t cross over, where you don’t make it easier for them to be homeless?” Rogan said. “You want to encourage them to take advantage of these things you were trying to set up. How do you make that distinction?”
“Generally speaking, the overwhelming number of people experiencing homelessness in our city are people who fell into homelessness here,” Adler said. “The people that are coming into our city, most of them are coming from areas immediately around us.”
“We made it work with veterans, and then I tried to scale up what we did with veterans, but I couldn’t get the resolve to spend the money. And part of the reason was because people didn’t see the challenge.”
No easy solutions, even if Austin goes back to 2019
Mayor Adler said two years ago, most homeless people were crowding around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, the ARCH, in downtown Austin. Austinites told him to fix that problem, but he said it’s not a problem with an easy fix.
“People wanted that to disappear. The problem with making that disappear, this challenge is not one you can just make go away. You can move it, but if you close it down anywhere, the people don’t disappear.”
Adler said veterans are a little easier because they come with federal resources like rent supplements. With veterans, big apartment buildings can get vouchers, and if they trash one of the units, the apartment complex can get a check to fix it from the federal government.
Adler said it’s more difficult with the larger homeless population because those same resources aren’t there, but he said we still need to act now to fix it so that Austin doesn’t end up like Los Angeles or Portland.
“If you hide this challenge, it’s going to continue to grow until it is so big you can’t hide it anymore, but at that point it’s going to be too big for you to actually meaningfully deal with it.”
Adler said when you put them into a home with resources, there’s a 90-95% success rate that the person can reintegrate back into society and sustain themselves in a positive way. He added, you can’t get rid of homelessness altogether, but you can find a balance where the rate of people entering homelessness is the same as people coming out of homelessness.