Will Homeless Problem Destroy Austin's 'Cool' Image?

For two decades, Austin has ridden the 'Austin Cool' image to becoming one of the most economically successful cities in the country. But the head of the Travis County Republican Party is warning that the City Council's mismanagement of Austin's growing homeless problem might be the end of 'Austin Cool,' News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Several weeks ago, Council loosened its 'public camping' ordinance, which had the result of allowing homeless people to set up squalid 'camps,' in downtown Austin, and even along Sixth Street, which features some of the night spots that made Austin hip. The only places the homeless can't set up shop is in parks, on private property, and, interestingly, around Austin City Hall.

Matt Mackowiak, who is a nationally known Republican political consultant, says the result has been many downtown businesses are closing rather than putting up with the smell of the homeless encampments, and he says this will not work out well.

"Austin has had a pretty good run as a really hot city in America for the last twenty years, and I think this really is harming that image," he told News Radio 1200 WOAI's Michael Board.

Mackowiak is circulating a petition in Austin urging the City Council to rescind the new public camping law, saying it has led to assaults, and homeless people now feel they can camp any place they like, knowing that police will not bother them for fear of stirring anger at City Hall.

"The Convention and Visitors Bureau is seeing a significant decline in conventions and business meetings in Austin because of this policy," he said.

A similar self-congratulatory form of 'compassion' has prompted officials in San Francisco to open its streets to homeless campers, and San Francisco now has the image of being the 'human feces capital of the country,' not exactly something the Chamber of Commerce wants to put it in brochures.

And Mackowiak says the reckoning for Austin will start this weekend, when fans pour out of Royal Memorial Stadium after the Longhorn's home opener, only to have to stumble and bypass the homeless people sprawled on the sidewalks.

"This Saturday we have the first U.T. football game and it is a night game," he said. "Tens of thousands of people will leave that game and they will go downtown drinking. You can imagine if they run into homeless people."

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