The Washington Post - 29.08.2019

(Joyce) #1

A6 EZ SU THE WASHINGTON POST.THURSDAY, AUGUST 29 , 2019


news media that there was no
evidence a pedestrian caused the
crash.
Abbott did not respond to re-
quests for comment.
But even some homeless peo-
ple in Austin question whether
the rules are too lenient.
“Everyone now has a sense of
entitlement, and now things are
beyond out of control,” said Am-
bra Hall, 38, a homeless woman
who was sitting in a camp while
five men were passed out at her
feet after smoking synthetic can-
nabinoids. “It went from one ex-
treme to another, from criminal-
izing people for not having a
home, to this.”
Drug use and crime in some
homeless camps have become
fodder for Republican politicians
in Te xas and across the country.
Washington state Sen. Phil Fortu-
nato announced that he will run
for governor next year on a plat-
form that includes removing the
“criminal homeless” from the
streets by incarcerating them for
even minor crimes.
“Everyone wants to address it
with kid gloves,” Fortunato said.
“You have got to get them off the
streets.”
Republicans think they have
the upper hand, noting that Den-
ver’s “Right to Survive” measure,
which would have allowed people
to sleep in tents or cars in public,
was voted down by 82 percent of
voters this spring.
In Austin, however, views
about the camping rules may be
less decisive.
Homeless residents “have no-
where else to go,” said Michael
Sherman, 40, a graphic designer
who moved to Austin four years
ago from Fairfax, Va. “So it doesn’t
bother me if they are just lying
around.”
tim.craig@washpost.com

sleep is “biologically essential.”
Theane Evangelis, an attorney
for the city of Boise, said courts
should not “usurp” the role of
local governments in regulating
public health and safety, noting
that homeless camps in Los Ange-
les and elsewhere have been bat-
tling outbreaks of disease.
“We need to keep control over
those issues in local communities
because they are very complex
problems, and constitutionaliz-
ing the issue ties the hands of
cities and states to address this,”
Evangelis said. She is partnering
with attorney Theodore Olson,
who argued the Supreme Court
case that mandated same-sex
marriage nationwide.
On a recent morning in Austin,
Curtis Underwood, 49, was sit-
ting along Sixth Street with a
bloody nose. He said he suffers
from epilepsy and had just been
to a local social service agency
searching for housing but was
turned away.
“They said there is a waiting
list of at least six months,” Under-
wood said. “I guess I need to get a
job, but the rent is so expensive
because all the people from Cali-
fornia are moving here.”
The wait list for affordable
housing is about three years, said
Adler, the city’s mayor. Austin is
planning to spend $30 million to
build more, but Adler notes that
state funding has been stagnant
— one reason he’s outraged over
the governor’s opposition to Aus-
tin’s public-camping action.
The day after the relaxed rules
took effect, Abbott retweeted a
photograph of a car crash and
implied that a homeless person
caused it by running into traffic.
“Look at t his insanity caused by
Austin’s reckless homeless pol-
icy,” Abbott wrote.
Austin police later told local

Restaurant, Grill and Margarita
Bar.
There were about 553,
homeless people in the United
States last year, according to the
Department of Housing and Ur-
ban Development, and 35 percent
of them were not sleeping in
shelters. It was the second con-
secutive annual increase in home-
lessness, a trend being driven by
single adults, the report noted.
The debate over camping bans
triggered a far-reaching federal
lawsuit in Boise, where the ban
was ruled a violation of the consti-
tutional right against “cruel and
unusual punishment,” because

homelessness out of the shadows.
Now, on some mornings, doz-
ens of homeless people are sleep-
ing on sidewalks in the city’s
well-known East Sixth Street
nightlife district. A messy en-
campment has been erected near
a mural honoring two Te xas mu-
sic legends, Janis Joplin and Wil-
lie Nelson.
That has sparked intense back-
lash from Austin business owners
along the corridor.
“We hear it from our guests
that walk into the restaurant and
say, ‘My God, what has happened
to Austin?’ ” said Gary Manley,
owner of the Iron Cactus Mexican

living on Austin streets since he
was released from prison in 2014,
thinks the new approach is saving
lives. After he received two cita-
tions for public camping, Sander-
son slept in drainage ditches to
avoid the police until, one night in
2018, he was awakened by a thun-
derous wall of water that crashed
down the creek bed during a flash
flood.
“The water hit my back and I
stood up and it just washed me off
my feet,” s aid Sanderson, 64, who
was swept downstream.
Sanderson was rescued, but his
story helped convince Austin law-
makers that they needed to bring

in cities grappling with over-
cr owded shelters.
As a legal matter, the issue
could reach the U.S. Supreme
Court. The city of Boise, Idaho,
recently asked the high court to
review a ruling from the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 9th Cir-
cuit, which applies in nine West-
ern states. The ruling determined
that criminalizing public sleeping
is unconstitutional when there is
inadequate shelter space.
Meanwhile, Republicans have
made the nation’s growing home-
less population a political weap-
on, characterizing it as a failure of
liberal policies.
“Look at Los Angeles with the
tents and the horrible, horrible
conditions,” President Trump
said at a Cincinnati rally this
month. “Look at San Francisco;
look at some of your other cities.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom
(D), when asked about Trump’s
recent comments, said that Dem-
ocratic policies have fueled the
economic resurgence of U.S. cities
that has caused a short-term in-
crease in homelessness. Califor-
nia is home to nearly half of the
nation’s homeless people who do
not use shelters, according to fed-
eral data.
“We don’t need [the presi-
dent’s] megaphone to tell us we
have challenges,” said Newsom,
adding that California is spend-
ing $1.7 billion to address housing
affordability.
In Austin, Te xas Gov. Greg Ab-
bott (R) has threatened to push
the GOP-dominated legislature to
pass a law overriding the capital’s
public-camping action. The Trav-
is County Republican Party has
organized a petition drive calling
for the policy to be rescinded, and
local party leaders are trying to
put it on the ballot next spring.
“They thought it would be com-
passionate and not a big deal, but
it has been an absolute disaster
for this city,” said Matt Mackow-
iak, chairman of the county party.
“This is our best example of [lib-
eral] overreach, so we have been
very strategic focusing on this
issue.”
But Austin officials are refus-
ing to back down, saying it’s not
practical to effectively criminal-
ize homelessness.
“When you move these people,
they don’t disappear. They just go
somewhere else,” said Mayor
Steve Adler (D). “The real answer
is not just moving people from
there to over there and back
again. The real answer is giving
them the services they need.”
Previously, the city prohibited
“sitting or lying down on public
sidewalks or sleeping outdoors”
in downtown Austin, where an
influx of well-paid workers has
driven up the cost of housing.
Between 2014 and 2016, Austin
police issued 18,000 citations for
rule violations, which cost as
much as $500 with court fees,
though many violators received
only community service hours.
But those cited didn’t show up
for court 90 percent of the time, a
2017 city auditor’s report found,
and nearly three-quarters of the
citations led to an arrest warrant.
Concerned that those criminal
records made it even harder for
homeless people to find jobs and
housing, the City Council amend-
ed the ordinance to allow loiter-
ing if an individual is not posing a
threat to the “health or safety of
another person or themselves” or
“impeding the reasonable use of a
public area.” Overnight camping
is still prohibited in city parks and
at City Hall.
“We basically said, if someone
is poor, and they have nowhere to
sleep, and they are not endanger-
ing or blocking anyone, how can
we say that is wrong?” said Grego-
rio “Greg” Casar, a council mem-
ber who pushed to ease the rules.
Alvin Sanderson, who has been


HOMELESS FROM A


Austin policymakers feel the heat from Republicans at state and county levels


BY FELICIA SONMEZ,


MIKE DEBONIS


AND VANESSA WILLIAMS


Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
said Wednesday that he will
resign at the end of 2019 because
of health problems, setting the
stage for two competitive Senate
races in Georgia in a presidential
election year.
Isakson, who was reelected to
a third term in 2016, said in a
statement that he had informed
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) of
his decision to leave “a job I love
because my h ealth challenges are
taking their toll on m e, my f amily
and my staff.”
His resignation is effective
Dec. 31.
“My Parkinson’s has been pro-
gressing, and I am continuing
physical therapy to recover from
a fall in July. In addition, this
week I had surgery to remove a
growth on my kidney,” the 74-


year-old senator said.
Isakson was hospitalized last
month with four fractured ribs
and a torn rotator cuff a fter a fall
at his Washington apartment.
On Monday, he had surgery in
Georgia to remove a two-centi-
meter renal cell carcinoma from
one of his kidneys, his office
said.
Kemp is expected to tap a
Republican to replace Isakson
next year. His retirement means
Georgia voters will be asked to
choose two U.S. senators next
year, as Sen. David Perdue (R) is
seeking a second term.
In a statement, Kemp thanked
Isakson for his years of service
and said he will appoint a suc-
cessor “at the appropriate time.”
Isakson’s departure immedi-
ately shifted attention to Demo-
crat Stacey Abrams, who nar-
rowly lost the governor’s race in


  1. A brams s aid in a statement
    she will n ot seek the seat, but she


is likely to face continued pleas
from Democrats to run.
“Our thoughts are with Sena-
tor Isakson and his family,”
Abrams spokesman Seth Bring-
man said. “Leader Abrams’ focus
will not change: she will lead
voter protection efforts in key
states across the country, and
make sure Democrats are suc-
cessful in Georgia in 2020. While
she will not be a candidate
herself, she is committed to help-
ing Democratic candidates win
both Senate races next year.”
Democrats had previously
courted Abrams t o challenge Per-
due, but she turned them down
and has focused on building a
national voter protection pro-
gram.
Isakson is chairman of the
Senate Committee on Veterans
Affairs and the Senate Select
Committee on Ethics.
Possible Republican replace-
ments include Georgia Attorney

General Chris Carr, who served
as chief of staff to Isakson; Lt.
Gov. G eoff Duncan; and U.S. Rep.
Douglas A. Collins.
The winner of the 2020 elec-
tion will serve the remaining two
years of Isakson’s term, and the
winner of the 2022 election will
serve a full six-year term.
Isakson is the fifth senator to
announce plans to retire. Three
other GOP committee chairmen
— Pat Roberts (Kan.), Lamar
Alexander (Tenn.) and Mike Enzi
(Wyo.) — have said they will not
seek reelection next year, depriv-
ing the Senate of some of the
more powerful pragmatic con-
servatives who have worked
closely with Democrats to ad-
vance bipartisan legislation.
Sen. To m Udall (N.M.) is the
lone Democrat not seeking an-
other term.
News of Isakson’s retirement
prompted praise for the senator
from both sides of the aisle.

“One of the many fine adjec-
tives to describe Johnny Isakson
is a word not used enough in the
halls of Congress these days:
kind,” Senate Minority Leader
Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said
in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell (R-Ky.) called Isakson
“not only a first-rate legislator
but also a man of the highest
integrity.”
With Isakson’s retirement,
Democrats now must field two
Senate candidates in Georgia, a
state that has been trending
slowly in their direction but so
far has remained out of grasp in
statewide races.
Five Democrats have declared
campaigns to challenge Perdue;
so far only Teresa To mlinson, the
former mayor of Columbus, has
raised a significant amount of
money, indicating a credible
ca mpaign.
Other candidates include

Clarkston Mayor Te d Te rry, who
appeared last year in an episode
of the Netflix reality show
“Queer Eye,” and Sarah Riggs
Amico, a business executive who
ran for lieutenant governor last
year. Both Te rry and Amico sig-
naled Wednesday that they
would stay in the race against
Perdue.
Another potential candidate
is Jon Ossoff, who was a liberal
political star in 2017 when he
made a strong but unsuccessful
bid in a special election for the
6th Congressional District seat
in suburban Atlanta.
Isakson’s political career be-
gan with his election to the
Georgia House in 1976. He is the
only person in Georgia’s history
to have been elected to the state
House and U.S. House and Sen-
ate.
felicia.sonmez@washpost.com
mike.debonis@washpost.com
vanessa.williams@washpost.com

Isakson announces resignation, setting up two 2020 Senate races in Georgia


PHOTOS BY TAMIR KALIFA FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
With Austin’s change in approach toward the homeless, people in a tent encampment under Interstate 35 near downtown may sleep without the worry of being ticketed.

David Fields passes the time on Sixth Street in Austin. Homeless people are sleeping on sidewalks in
the city’s well-known East Sixth Street nightlife district, and some area business owners are frustrated.

“The real answer is not just moving people from there to over there and back again.


The real answer is giving them the services they need.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D), discussing the city’s homeless population
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