Editorial: Abbott should let Austin handle its own problems

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott must not have enough to do.

He seems to be casting about to find local problems to attack, such as the one Austin has had with homelessness. So far, though, Abbott’s “solutions” go against that city’s plans, making the situation that much more problematic.

It’s true that Abbott, as governor, could call Austin his city and argue he would always have a personal interest in homelessness. If he has not, maybe he should consider donating to one of the many groups actually working with the homeless there.

If you are not aware of the situation, it seems Abbott was upset by a decision by the Austin City Council. Those elected officials voted to temporarily loosen rules against camping inside city limits as a stopgap until a more permanent solution could be found for those without a roof.

We hasten to say the council’s actions don’t seem like a great idea to us, either. But the intentions were good and it did help supply pressure toward finding a long-term solution.

It did not suit Abbott, however.

Earlier this month, he sent out workers from the Texas Department of Transportation to shut down homeless camps that bloomed under highway underpasses. Perhaps Abbott thought this would do the trick. It certainly got him some mentions in the news.

But before the sun set, almost all the people who had been “removed” from the underpass tent grounds were back. Their already difficult lives had been disrupted and a bunch of tax dollars had been spent, but otherwise there was no real change.

Still, we’re sure Abbott’s next campaign pamphlet will say he “did something” about the homeless problem in Austin.

We should mention that he did secure a 5-acre plot for the homeless to camp on in a deteriorating neighborhood. He also saw to it that the site was furnished with portable toilets and handwashing stations. Those are positive developments but it, too, is not a permanent solution.

There are a number of organizations in the city that are moving toward a solution by providing permanent shelters for those with nowhere to go. A 300-bed facility is well underway that will put a large dent in the problem.

Our main point is that homelessness is a complex problem, one that will not be solved even by providing enough indoor accommodations. There are some who simply refuse to live inside and others who might be mentally ill and choose to stay outside even in inclement weather.

We also are concerned because this meddling continues a trend of Abbott and other top elected officials working to usurp local officials’ authority.

Of course the governor is right to have a goal of seeing no one reduced to living beneath an underpass, or forced to camp anywhere in Austin, or anywhere in Texas for that matter.

But ham-handed approaches such as cleaning out camps and leaving residents searching for another place to stay is not the way to deal with the issue.

This is a problem for the city of Austin to handle. If Abbott really wants to help, he could help supply the funds needed for real change, if not through state grants then maybe by pulling some bills out of his own pocket.

Today's Bible verse

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

— John 1:1-3

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