AUSTIN, Texas — Contractors for the City of Austin conducted one of its first cleanups under overpasses Thursday at Highway 183 near Ohlen Road. 

  • Taking over for TxDOT
  • City says cleaning ensure area is safe
  • Provide notice before picking up the pieces

It was one of the first cleanings since the City Council amended ordinances largely allowing lying, sitting, and camping in public areas. In May, the City of Austin took over the responsibility from the Texas Department of Transportation, which has been doing it for years.

A spokesperson for Austin’s Department of Public Works, who denied requests for interviews, said in an email, “While cleanups happen at locations where those without a home often are, the services are focused on removing debris, solid waste, and unattended items under bridges. Contracted crews are not supposed to remove individuals from those locations.”

City officials believe the cleanings and the recent changes to the camping rules are separate issues. They said the purpose of the cleanings is to ensure the area is safe and free of hazardous debris. Contractors throw away trash, and they also take blankets and furniture.

Fifty-six year old John Bourgeois said he has a camp nearby. He is living with a disability and is having trouble finding work. 

“A lot of this stuff isn’t trash. A lot of us poor people clean up after themselves. I really believe it’s stealing, and hurting us,” he said. 

Public Works representatives said they understand some items may belong to some people, so they put up notices at the locations 72 hours before cleaning, as well as provide bags to people to pack up personal belongings.

Leslie Bowser, a realtor in North Austin, said she has noticed in recent months, an increase in homeless camps under the highway. From her work, she understands how there is a lack of affordable housing in the city. Bowser hopes city leaders dedicate more resources to addressing the issue. 

“It’s sad, because you can’t help them and you want to and you have a heart, but there’s really not enough options for them,” she said. 

A spokesperson for Public Works said they are evaluating the clean up process. Next week, contractors will be cleaning up near I-35 and Braker Lane, as well as Highway 183 and MoPac.