Inside the Austin’s city-run Northbridge homelessness shelter were scenes of squalor—and death.
At the urging of Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly, the Austin American-Statesman reviewed photos provided by a whistleblower. Those photos showed “housing units strewn with drugs and drug paraphernalia throughout trashed rooms, a gun and employees asleep on the job.”
Kelly wants to know where the millions of dollars of public funding for homelessness have gone, because as the Statesman also points out, Austin budgeted $80.9 million this year alone. Yet “despite the money, time and resources invested, Austin’s homeless population has grown to an estimated 5,000 people.” Some have died in the city’s own facilities from drug overdose. Kelley has even received reports of prostitution and methamphetamine manufacturing going on at Northbridge.
This is a failure of policy. The left’s solution of rapid housing without requiring sobriety or psychiatric fitness, known as Housing First, had its weakness on full display in a KVUE report of a local shelter showing a cache of drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons. This downward spiral culminated last week in the resignation of Dianna Grey, Austin’s second Homeless Strategy Officer.
Following Grey’s resignation, during whose tenure the homelessness seemed to worsen dramatically, Kelly called for an audit of the city’s homelessness services. In a letter to interim city manager Jesus Garza, Kelly outlined her request to review and audit parts of the city’s booming homeless industrial complex. According to the memorandum, the focus is aimed at:
- Financial Transparency: A detailed breakdown of the funds allocated for homeless services, including sources of funding (local, state, federal) and how these funds are being distributed across various programs and initiatives.
- Coordination of Services: An examination of how well different city departments, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders are coordinating efforts to provide services to the homeless population, and identifying areas where collaboration can be improved.
- Community Input: Engagement with stakeholders, including community member, advocates, service providers, and individuals experiencing homelessness, to gather input on the current homeless services and areas for improvement, to best address the needs of those experiencing homelessness and allow for our constituencies to be involved in the process.
These are the principles that the city of Austin must begin to emphasize when it comes to homelessness. The current way of handling the problem—i.e. throwing boatloads of money at it—isn’t working and a new approach is needed.
It’s time we turn the page and begin eliminating ineffective programs and policies, and instead refocus our resources on services that are effective.