Is This the Strategy Behind Austin's Mad Homeless Camping Policy?

Austin, Texas, is routinely cited as one of the best cities in America to live.

Er, that's not going to last — not if its homeless camping policy continues.

To recap: On June 20 the Austin City Council repealed ordinances prohibiting homeless camping around town. They had to move on or the police could cite them. Police oppose this policy and went into a low-level revolt. The people oppose this policy and have also gone into a low-level revolt.

The policy went into effect in a political blink on July 1. That very day, tent cities began popping up all over town. Those tent cities grew. A Twitter hashtag — #austinhomeless — grew up to chronicle the issues the city's residents now face. Here's a sample of the new sights around the Texas capital.

The answer, apparently, is yes. Mayor Steve Adler even went to Los Angeles and Seattle to "learn" how to fail more emphatically. But what if "failure" is the point?

Since my last article on this subject, a theory to explain the policy change has swept across Austin and a petition to stop the policy has appeared. I'll get to the theory later.

The petition is the work of Travis County Republican Party chairman Matt Mackowiak. Austin and Travis County are both deep blue. But this issue has some questioning their allegiance to a Democratic Party that is running the city over a cliff.

"I created the petition 15 days ago and we now have more than 20,000 signatures," Mackowiak told me. "The goal was to create an easy way for people to express their opposition to the Homeless Camping ordinance. We haven’t spent one cent on advertising. This thing has gone viral."

It has, and it's still accepting signatures.

"The Mayor and the City Council have needlessly threatened public safety, public health, tourism, and our economy," Mackowiak adds.

A theory explaining the insane policy has also gone viral. I've heard it from more than one connected person around town. It goes like this.

Austin's mayor wants to leave his mark on the city. Leaving fecal matter and puddles of urine behind aren't the endgame but they're part of the plan. The plan is to expand the city's convention center to attract even more massive events like SXSW. Thanks to the current and previous city councils, Austin's streets really can't handle the increased traffic these events bring, but we're not supposed to notice that. We're supposed to be happy they prioritize bicycles over cars, hoping against hope that suit- and dress-wearing professionals will commute on bikes even when it's 104 degrees outside in April.

Not. Happening. But they don't care. They want downtown undrivable and they're succeeding. Thanks to so much high-rise construction going on, the crane has become the unofficial city bird. Get it?

Back to the theory. Mayor Steve Adler wants to expand the convention center, and wants to pass bonds (debt) to pay for it. He also wants to spend a bazillion dollars on pet social projects including for the homeless. The convention center is popular with the business set. The social spending, not so much. That's usually money thrown down a hole, or into liberal groups and slush funds. So the theory is he wants to bundle the convention center spending in with the homeless spending, and he's using the horrible homeless camping policy to inflict enough pain on the city to create space for him to attach them so they both get both passed.

The theory has a lot of moving parts.

Friday morning during an interview with Todd Jeffries on KLBJ radio, Adler all but confirmed it. He pleaded for a $30 million annual homeless budget, and a permanent "homelessness czar," to work on homelessness. Such a staggering sum would never have passed had homelessness not become such a raw nerve issue as it has since July 1. It is the issue in Austin right now.

The theory requires a cynicism that certainly exists in Austin government.

The hot Austin summer has seen tents and associated Baltimore-style filth sweep across town — and a grand unified theory to explain the indefensible is sweeping across town too.

The Austin City Council could amend or rescind the policy at its August meeting. Or, it could leave it in place. It's a safe bet the mayor will seek more money, paid for by taxpayers, which will make Austin that much more unaffordable. Cutting taxes and reducing spending to lighten the burden on taxpayers will not be on the agenda.

Mo money. Mo money. Mo money. Agenda items one, two and three.

"Our hope is they will end this disastrous policy on August 8. If they don’t, we will ratchet up the pressure considerably," Mackowiak says.

We'll see.