Source: Michael Letts
Homeless encampments in Austin, Texas, were legalized in 2021, but the people of this fast-growing tech mecca have had second and third thoughts about what looked like a good idea on paper but turned out to be an eyesore under bridges.
Austin politicos have just finished removing virtually all remaining visible homeless camps. Other cities are taking notice.
The journey to this current outcome was far from a straight path.
Put bluntly, it was a dizzying display of waffling “wokeness.” In 2019, the city council of Austin had the bright idea to legalize homeless camps. Unfortunately, they took the vote in the middle of the night — 2:00 am to be exact — when virtually all citizen stakeholders were asleep.
A year later, the same council voted to defund the city’s police budget by more than a third.
These decisions caused wholesale disaster and immediate negative consequences for public safety. Moreover, they led to even more chaos, violence, and, recently, a backlash from some grassroots groups actively rejecting the council’s dangerous progressive agenda.
Like other cities across the nation, Austin residents had the chance to move in favor of restoring order as they voted on Proposition A to “re-fund” and restaff the police. This ballot measure came a year after they voted on another referendum to curb the rampant homeless crises created by that first middle-of-the-night council vote.
But unlike other cities, Austin voted down the measure in early November.
After Decision No. 1 by the city council, homelessness in Austin exploded as homeless people from other cities migrated into the state capitol to live off the heavily-subsidized fat of the land.
The situation quickly became deadly. A whopping 10 percent of homeless people died in 2020 alone — with substance abuse being the leading killer. Regrettably, the gruesome run of deaths has gone on unabated. As a result, the city spent upwards of $70 million last fiscal year to deal with all related problems, and as if that wasn’t enough, the federal government poured in another $200 million.
It turns out it’s expensive to make everything “free and legal.”
It was also a big hit for taxpayers at the state and federal levels. One study of public spending on the 250 “most expensive” homeless people in Travis County — where Austin is located — showed a combined annual cost of $223,000 per person. That’s far more than most hard-working Americans earn in a year.
Then came Proposition B, a grassroots referendum to reinstate the city’s camping ban that made it on the ballot. Again, city officials predicted it would be a close call.
But it wasn’t. Prop. B won a decisive 58–42 percent victory in Spring of 2021.
Then, as all of this played out, the Austin woke wannabes jumped on the Defund the Police bandwagon. And, you guessed it, yanking police resources made that bad public camping experiment even worse.
As a result of the insane defunding movement, Austin’s fiscal 2020 police budget dropped from $434.5 million in 2019 to $292.2 million in 2020. On top of that, the city council also cut three cadet classes and 150 officers from the budget.
Proposition A. was meant to help turn things around. This was another referendum created by the same group behind Prop. B — Save Austin Now — that would have required the city to backtrack on those spending cuts and pay to maintain and train more police officers (two per every 1,000 residents).
It would have doubled officer training and increased their presence in the community. But Austin voters rejected Proposition A due to a campaign against it that claimed funds would have been taken from funding parks and other city services.
It’s too bad. Austin’s 2021 murder tally is now the highest in its history, nearly tripling from 33 in 2019 to 89 murders in 2021.
Austin’s looking a lot like Portland, Oregon, Chicago, and New York.
Clearly, ‘Defund the Police’ did not work. Neither did the idealistic notion of allowing the homeless to self-govern, even with subsidies of a quarter-million dollars apiece.
It’s unclear why Austin still backed these double-barrel bad ideas. Who wants to go to a park if it’s filled with homeless people and no police to fight crime?
Based on the crime, homelessness, and general turmoil in the city, it seems like this deadly social experiment needed to end, and we can only hope Austin elected officials learned their lessons.
Austin is a familiar story. The number of sworn officers has dropped by more than 300 over the past year. Yet, at the same time, the city’s population has grown by nearly 40,000 since 2019. It currently stands at about one million.
According to data collected for the Manhattan Institute’s Metro Majority survey, more than half of Austin residents oppose defunding the police and support a more prominent police presence in their area.
The first city council vote in the dead of night demonstrated the council’s complete disregard for the well-being of its citizens.
Adding insult to injury, the council voted again to defund the police, throwing the community into more chaos and danger at the hands of criminals.
Throwing open the doors to all of the state’s homeless population while employing fewer officers was a recipe for disaster. It’s now painfully apparent that it’s far easier to Defund the Police from a city relatively free of crime than it is to re-fund and remove criminals and stop the crime that has proliferated during the grand experiment. It won’t be easy, but at least — with more officers and training on the horizon — there would have been more hope for the people of Austin now that politicians have somewhat awakened from their “woke” slumber.