Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Tackling the Homeless Problem

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Taken from JRE #1657 w/Mayor Steve Adler:

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Video Transcript:

The jurogan experience the biggest issue by far over this past year has been the homeless crisis right that's the biggest thing is the increase in the tents and the chaos and you know when uh dave chappelle and i were doing stubs we'd go down 8th street and there's that underpass and it was just like a village down there it was crazy um what happened how did that all get Going like what what was the motivation for allowing people to camp in public places well that's account that's the action the council took two years ago but so let's go okay back before two years ago you know when i came into office we had an outdoor area that kind of looked like you know what you have downtown in skid row in l.a but ours was just in a in a block Area but that's what everybody talked about and you where was that area it was uh over toward i-35 toward the highway it was at the the arch which was a shelter but most of the people there never went inside they kind of gathered outside it was an open-air market of all kinds of horrible things and people wanted that to disappear the problem with making that disappear Is that you this challenge is not one you can just make go away you can move it but but if you close it down anywhere it's going the people don't disappear so they'll come back but that was a challenge coming into office uh but in my second third and fourth years in office i started going to neighborhood association meetings And whereas in the past people would want to talk about zoning or flooding now all they wanted to talk about was this homeless encampment that was near them somewhere in the woods in the stream somewhere nearby they were blaming the um the the petty crime happening in the neighborhood on them every one of them had a wife or a daughter that had a horrible experience related to them And i was going to these neighborhood association meetings and people were as angry as i have ever seen at a public meeting demanding that something be done uh i had one of them uh here a neighborhood a guy came up to me after it was over and he said your mayor fix this and if you don't i have a gun and i will fix this myself jesus and and i don't know that he Actually meant that but but there was that was the fervor and the feel and i had as as a member of this city council nothing to offer that neighborhood association they were complaining about people that were under an overpass at uh the the highway not too far away from them and i knew that if we fenced in that Overpass which of course we couldn't do because it's not city property it's state property but if the state fenced it in so that those people weren't there anymore uh they don't disappear so all they're going to do is is move up the highway or down the highway or somewhere else and i was going to more and more neighborhood associations that were complaining more and more About encampments and and i had no solution to that and what hurt was is we knew what worked so in that same period of time we said let's house every vet in our city that's experiencing homelessness you know there was a national program doing it a lot of cities participated austin was one of a handful of cities to successfully get that done community came together we we When you take someone who's experiencing homelessness and you put them into a home and get them wrapped around services there's like a 90 95 success rate that that person will either reintegrate back into society or will sustain themselves in a in a positive way wherever it is 90 95 and it seems like austin being a fairly small city you're dealing With a much smaller even though it's a large number of people per se it's it's it's it's almost a manageable number like you might be able to do that with all these homeless people whereas if you're in a place like los angeles and dealing with a hundred thousand people like what's the number of homeless people in austin right you are you're dead on and and quite frankly That's the the the gamble or the the what the city council was trying to do two years ago so on our streets on any given night there's about three thousand people that are experiencing homelessness la city almost fifty thousand it's i think you know but it's it's increased to the point it's hard to say whether or not it's increased or its exposures increase because they've all Moved to like venice beach where there's just thousands of tenants the numbers are going up yeah you know and in seattle san francisco smaller cities than austin have three to six times as many people experiencing homelessness you know i was with the mayor in l.a and i and i said to him i said god i don't even know what you do I mean the scale of your challenge is so great the cost to actually turn this around i said i i don't know what you do and i said so i'm not here asking you what you do but i'm asking you what do you wish you had done eight years ago ten years ago to prevent being where you are today what are you saying he gave me the same answer that the experts gave me in san Francisco and portland and seattle they all said 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 they said it's it is like the political issue right now in in l.a and in san francisco it's like Important they said i wish that we were as resolved to fix it eight ten years ago as we are today because we would have been able to set up the systems so that we could have reached equilibrium and now we wouldn't be here you've got places like san francisco that have such tolerant policies towards homeless people that people gravitate to san francisco to be homeless which is really kind of crazy but true People have actually moved there with the intention of like taking advantage of all their services taking advantage of the food and shelter and the ability to do whatever you want and you know you could actually get money from certain services in san francisco there's like a fine line between helping and encouraging people to continue the lifestyle And you know for some people the freedom of just being able to camp and do whatever you want there they're checked out right for whatever reason whether it's mental illness whether it's just they prefer this sort of vagabond lifestyle i don't know whatever what it is but is there a like 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 you want to encourage them to take advantage of these things you were trying to set up where you're talking about providing them with wrap around services where you can actually reintegrate them to society like how do you make that distinction well you know so much of the debate and the discussion Around homelessness has turned so political like so many other kinds of discussions but but homelessness is one of the big ones so i have continued to ask the people that are working daily with the universe of people experiencing homelessness in our city about 10 thousand people in any given year intersect with our homelessness system About three thousand people on any given day in our city experiencing homelessness and i've asked that question are we pulling people in and what they tell me consistently for the last six years seven years is that you can find anecdotally where that has happened but generally speaking the overwhelming number of people Experiencing homelessness in our city are people who fell into homelessness here the people that are coming into our city most of them are coming from the areas immediately around us i had one of them tell me once that there's not a a voter's guide to cities for people experiencing homelessness and austin would be in danger going from two stars to Three stars and people would start coming we have enough challenge getting people experiencing homelessness to go from one side of the city to the other side of the city once they have a of have a place so where i'm looking at here and i know that that the governor you know gavin newsom in california told people that uh that austin and texas were Giving people tickets and sending people to to california did he say that he said that not true from i mean no wait a minute that guy lied about something that's crazy that's what i hear uh but the uh um so so i'm i'm i'm just you know we we just need to handle it we need to get people we need to get people off the streets so the council did was We said we made it work with veterans and then i tried to scale up what we did with veterans but i couldn't get the the resolve to spend the money and part of the reason was is because people didn't see the challenge so there'd be some neighborhoods that were willing to do it i knew as as sure as the sun was going to come up the next day that this was now accelerating in our city So what we said was we're going to maintain the ordinances that say if you threaten public safety or public health you can get arrested and ticketed and put in jail because that's important somebody's doing that they should be arrested and ticketed and put in jail but if they're not doing that if all they're doing is surviving then it is inhumane to either put that person in jail Or to force that person to live down in the streams and in the woods because you you it's an even worse place for them to be so why is it a worse place for them to be camping in the woods than to be camping on a public street well in well one you don't want anybody camping in a public street either right so that's not a solution to the challenge You can't have that happen either but if somebody is in the woods or down by the streams they're not interacting with anybody else so you have you have hundreds of women that are getting assaulted every night as the price to be able to live in that environment because they're they're secluded and they're not safe so you mean if a homeless woman Moves to the woods she's in danger because there's no one around her unless she's to a protector unless she picks a protector she's not in a community of homeless people and so this is one of the reasons why these people gravitate towards these places like that eighth street underpass because there's a lot of them together and there there's a sense of and they can see it our health officials Can find them right we're now vaccinating our entire population of people experiencing homelessness because we can find them 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 and we didn't do that we didn't we Didn't manage the public spaces the shared spaces the way that we should have so what the council did that summer summers we said okay we're going to decriminalize it because every person who you know in 19 in in in 2016 thereabouts we wrote like 18 000 tickets and as you imagine very few of those people ended up in court the following thursday to pay their Fine they end up bench warrant issues for their arrest and then you can't get they six months later they have trouble getting a job or an apartment so now they have a criminal record right so they said we're just not going to do that anymore but on the same day we did that we asked the city manager to come back with a set of rules that would say okay so we we where is it that people can go and Can't go uh and for lots of reasons that never happened and that's where we made our mistake so if you could go back and do it all over again from the moment you got into office what would you have done differently well the the what we did initially uh in terms of with the veterans was real successful i would do that again it proves up the model can you explain how how that works like What what what did you do exactly for the veterans well veterans are a little bit easier because they come with resources so they come with what are called vash vouchers from the federal government which is support to help do rent supplements but then it was reaching out to everybody in the city that had apartment buildings big managers of apartment buildings with These vouchers and we would say would you take in these vets and and and people were willing to do that um we had some landlords that were suspicious of and say i'm not going to do this because if i take someone like this they're going to trash out the place and that'd be six months to evict them so i got together with some private businesses in the lake we created a risk Fund outside of city government and we put it into the community foundation and we said if you take a tenant and they trash out your place or create a problem you call in the morning you get a check in the afternoon all the landlords said they don't believe me because it's city it's going to take you five months i said it's not in the city it's privately funded we're doing it Outside the city that's a great solution it was great and it took trusting the landlord that they weren't going to be making claims unless they actually had problems so you start with this you take the veterans you have this these vouchers you bring them into apartment buildings you get them places that's step one so now they have a roof Over their head but how do you help them clean up the service providers in the city all said because we all got everybody together and we said let's let's let's get to equilibrium with veterans which means that i mean you can never end homelessness but what you can do is get to a place where the rate at which you house people and they come out of housing back to Life is the same rate at which they show up experiencing homelessness i said let's do that with veterans it was part again of a federal program what percentage of the homeless folks are veterans you know i think it's probably right now about six percent something like that the number was higher back then because we had more veterans on the on the on the streets But the service providers all came in and said okay if you can house vets you can find places for them we'll start prioritizing them for giving them services catch new episodes of the joe rogan experience for free only on spotify watch back catalog jre videos on spotify including clips easily seamlessly switch between video and audio experience on spotify you can listen to the jre in the background while using other apps And can download episodes to save on data cost all for free spotify is absolutely free you don't have to have a premium account to watch new jre episodes you just need to search for the jre on your spotify app go to spotify now to get this full episode of the joe rogan experience

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