Austin’s Plan to Address Homelessness Could become a National Model

…And the state would make a great partner.

The City of Austin remains laser focused on public safety and health. Last Thursday, we preserved all law enforcement tools to act on public safety threats and public health hazards.

But what do we do with folks experiencing homelessness that are presenting neither such risks or hazards?  The person sitting up against the building, dealing with swirling demons the rest of us can’t see, needs our help.  The answer is not to arrest them. Making a crime of merely being in distress is both ineffective and inconsistent with the character of this city.

We need to be able to tell people not only where they can’t be, but also where they can be.  We need places where homeless folks can be safe and surrounded by social workers and others getting them the help and support they need.

We have a year and half before the legislature meets again.  In that time, I hope and trust that Austin will develop policies and a program that will make the State proud and something the legislature will want to scale up to cities across the State. 

Having the State as a constructive partner as we do this would help.

Let’s look at our challenge in context. Seattle has 200,000 fewer people than Austin, but six times as many folks experiencing homelessness.  We have about 1150 folks unsheltered on our streets.  That’s a size of number that we should be able to do something about.  We need to get these folks safe, legal places to camp so we can get them into shelters, and then with jobs and medical care, and into homes, so many if not most can get back into a productive life.

We’ll do this even though the State has made it harder for us.  We have some great pilot programs that we need to scale in our city:  we’ve gotten to net effective zero veteran homelessness and last year we took half the homeless children off our streets.  But the legislature’s revenue caps imposed on cities will make it harder for us to scale those programs here.  We’re going to figure it out and get the job done even though the State is working against us.

What Everyone Should Know About City Council’s Actions to Keep Austinites Safe and Housed

An Update on Austin’s Homelessness Challenge

There is very constructive, overwhelming community consensus on the urgency of the need to address homelessness in our city. Homelessness advocates, law enforcement officials, local businesses, neighborhoods and city residents are all ready to work toward solutions to all three of the distinct kinds of challenges that homelessness presents, beyond assisting those that need our help:

  • Public Safety threats include things like aggressive panhandling, aggressive approaching, touching, threatening, intimidating, blocking, impeding, and trespassing on someone’s private property.
  • Public Health hazards include things like exposure to unsanitary conditions, drug paraphernalia and human waste.
  • Unhoused Living challenges arise when we are exposed to and directly presented with disruptive mental health or physical conditions that do not constitute public safety threats or public health hazards but nonetheless are difficult or upsetting to confront.

This Thursday, Austin City Council will consider three matters that seek to address these three issues.

The first is a proposed ordinance that maintains all the tools the police department currently has to address any threat to public safety or public health hazard, without criminalizing non-threatening unhoused living challenges. The new ordinance removes the allowance of arresting or ticketing someone who — in an officer’s opinion and judgment — is neither threatening public safety nor presenting a public health hazard. This change will be applied to three provisions of city code:

  • City Code, Section 9-4-11, “Camping in Public Area Prohibited”.
  • City Code, Section 9-4-14, “Sitting or Lying Down…in the Downtown…”
  • City Code, Section 9-4-13, “Solicitation Prohibited” (will be expanded to all non-solicitation, aggressive confrontations)

These proposed changes to city code maintain APD’s ability to deal with threats to public safety and public health hazards, but no longer make it a crime to sit, lie, camp, or solicit in a manner that is not posing such threats or hazards. It is worth noting that city code on solicitation is actually broadened, under this measure, to include any “aggressive confrontation,” whether or not solicitation is involved.

The second matter Council will consider on the subject of homelessness is a proposed resolution which asks the City Manager to give the Council and community better options than now exist to deal with the non-threatening, unhoused living challenges. These could include steps such as identifying places where camping would and would not be allowed and providing a safer place for families that are currently sleeping in their cars along our streets and moving toward more housing (shelters and permanent).

The third anticipated Council action this week will be taking a real step forward by locating a shelter which could provide an additional safe place where people experiencing homelessness can be referred for individual assessment and services to address their particular challenges on the way to more permanent housing. More such capacity will be required, but this is an important next step.

If these measures pass, police will have the tools they need to deal with the health and safety concerns sometimes associated with some of those experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the city will be moving toward more effectively dealing with the non-threatening, unhoused living challenges in our community by providing real solutions rather than the ineffective, inefficient, and morally tenuous criminalization of an already difficult life situation.

The backdrop for all of these updates is the work Council is doing in addition to the items on this week’s agenda. Other efforts to address homelessness include re-scoping the ARCH downtown, moving $8 million of federal funding toward supportive homelessness housing and expanding the convention center to create a $4 million to $10 million dedicated annual funding stream.

We have much work still to do in service of the goal of making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. But as Mayor, I’m committed to preserving the coalition of community partners and maintaining a focus on constructive results.

Mayor Adler comments, as guest of honor, at Austin’s 2019 City Wide Iftar, May 28, 2019

Ramadan Mubarak.

It is my pleasure to join with the Muslim community in Austin’s City Wide Iftar. This is my fourth dinner and I am a truly honored guest tonight.

The first City Wide Iftar was a response to an ugly incident in which Leilah Abdennabi and Sirat Al-Nahi were accosted because of their identity at a local restaurant. Soon after, in my conference room with a handful of the Muslim community’s young leaders, many different emotions were channeled into creating this event for Austin to share a meal of peace together.

I recognize the deeply spiritual nature of this time period on the Islamic calendar. It is a time for reflection, piety and growing closer to Allah through abstinence from worldly distractions and through the giving of charity. As a member of the Jewish community, I recognize parallels to a similar time period on the Jewish calendar.

We’ve gathered at too many vigils this past year. Too many times I’ve been required as mayor to help lead our community through tragedy, condemnations of hatred, and the holding, hugging and supporting of one another. These are difficult times for, among others, the Muslim and Jewish communities. These communities share an alarming rise in antiMuslim and anti-Semitic incidents, some in our own city.

Within the last six months we have been witness to two synagogue shootings and a massacre of Muslims praying in peace in a mosque in Christchurch. Our Muslim and Jewish communities have stood with each other to grieve and to lend strength.

After the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, the first messages of concern and comfort received by my rabbi, here tonight, came from friends within the Muslim community. Jews participated in the Christchurch vigil, just as Muslims, like Maram Museitif, were in the Chabad house three weeks ago.

Favorable views of people of another religion are highest among people that have friends of that religion. Did you know a Georgetown University study reports that Muslims and Jews report the highest percentage of good friendships with one another?

No wonder, then, that Jews, as compared to all other faith groups, hold the most overwhelmingly positive view of Muslims. American Muslim views of Jews mirror those high levels of positives, again higher than any other faith group. Tonight, gathered here together over a special meal, we are reinforcing bridges that have been built over time, frequently built one friendship at a time.

I’d also like to acknowledge the moment in which we find ourselves together. In a city that pays much attention to food, tonight’s dinner may be the most discussed meal in town. I’ve been asked, publicly and privately, about my participation.

Simply, I’m here because as mayor, it’s my privilege and duty to lean into, not retreat from, learning and growing opportunities for my community. Being among friends, I’ll speak from my heart about the power and resilience of the bonds we all share even in the face of challenges.

Dialogue can be a source of unity, but so, too, can words be a source of division. In recent years, our political landscape has increasingly included anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic tropes designed to stigmatize and to foment suspicion.

References to Muslims as terrorists and Jews as interested only in money are not only libelous, they are dangerous. Even more so are libels which question Muslim and Jewish loyalty to the United States, sometimes rooted in Muslim adherence to Sharia law or Jewish support for the State of Israel.

As both of our communities have learned, such tropes have real consequences. If we are to avoid sharing more moments of pain together, we must be deliberate, mindful and informed to avoid the painful and false narratives that have been used against each of our communities over time.

Whether intended as hurtful or not, in our new political and social reality, those at the fringe weaponize these tropes with frightening speed and often to disastrous effect. They hear the use of these words as acquiescence or approval of their bigotry.

At the velocity of a meme, the suggestion of a hateful idea is compounded, picked up and piled on. The momentum and malevolence of this progression can overwhelm reason and — if we are not vigilant — undermine society’s ability to draw clearly a line between what is right and wrong. And then hatred, and the words, spread to others.

The perpetuation of these words causes a significant harm because they bring fear to those whose history causes them to hear the words as threats. The cycle and the history are perceived to be reinforced regardless of the intent behind the initial use of the words.

Those of us listening have a responsibility, too. History teaches us that silence — a failure to call out how words and the ripples of fear that begin as soon as they are spoken — is the early failure that allows the most harmful tropes to take root and grow into more malignant ideas… and later, actions.

So, when lines are crossed, even inadvertently, we must speak. It is our responsibility to point out the impact of language rooted in old and harmful stereotypes and to hold the speakers of those words accountable for their impact.

When we speak out; we must also be consistent. We must condemn all such hateful and hurtful language. Being selective in our sanctions can create an even more insidious evil.

It is patently wrong for people to weaponize condemnation and to use it as a cheap political organizing tool by only directing it toward those they wish to demonize because of their identify, if they wear hijab for example. Just as there is no innocent use of a trope, there is no innocent failure to call out transgressions equally and everywhere.

With different histories, we may not recognize all the meanings of all the words. How can I be responsible for what I cannot hear? That, I would suggest, is part of what this City Wide Iftar is about. We gather together to learn to hear with each other’s ears. To see with each other’s eyes. To feel what each other feels. To celebrate and to protect one another. To grow and learn, from and with each other.

I have so many friends in this room that I care about so deeply. I thank you for making me aware of and sensitive to your lived experiences that I didn’t know. I hope I’ve been part of similar growth for you.

Today, we have an elected American official with us: a woman of color… an immigrant… wearing hijab on the floor of the US Congress. That image is inspiring and a wonderful symbol of our country’s progress toward real and meaningful representation in government for people who have not previously seen themselves reflected in our democratic institutions.

That image is incomplete, because it is silent. This leader, as we’ve heard, also has a voice and a fist to pound and she was elected to use both. As with all groups and all people, there will be times when interests will not align, sometimes as concerns some aspects of US policy in the Middle East. In such cases, robust and thoughtful advocacy of our individual positions is the right of each of us, as it is for every American. Rep. Omar, as with other elected officials, is entitled to be heard.

You have heard me criticize our President for failing to recognize, or choosing to ignore, that with a public platform comes the responsibility to advocate for positions without resorting to utilizing hurtful tropes designed to demean and sow suspicion about those with opposing views. All too often in contemporary politics, it seems that it is somehow not sufficient to advocate one’s own views; one must also demonize those with whom we disagree. The use of such language does not serve to advance the conversation; it actually does the direct opposite. Having sustained the sting of canards, many are unable to listen to anything further.

Together, we must create and preserve a space, big enough for us to speak up and call out the improper use of tropes and canards that we hear. It must be a big enough space, still, for each of us to learn of others and their histories, and to learn of words that empower bigots and engender fear. We must create the space for us to embrace the challenge of learning to recognize that calling out hurtful language should be the beginning of a mutual learning experience, rather than the end of a conversation.

We need more moments like tonight where we come together to share a meal, to hear inspiring words, and to recognize our common link to the One God. As a city, we need more such moments to recognize the commonality of all peoples of faith and to celebrate the rich diversity of our city. All of us, Muslim and non-Muslim. should utilize this holy time to reflect on our own roles in either fomenting division or fostering peace.

Little did the Muslim leaders know four years ago that their vision of a City Wide Iftar would become so well attended. I know that I take away great inspiration from the City Wide Iftar. I look forward to joining all of you in this observance for so long as I have the privilege of being mayor… and then simply as a friend in the years beyond.

Thank you.

Adler: “We Are Putting Queso On The Moon”

Special Package from Mayor Steve Adler Will Land on Moon in April

AUSTIN, TX, February 22, 2019 — Mayor Steve Adler today revealed the contents of an official letter to extraterrestrials and future citizens of the solar system that will be placed on the moon approximately 40 days from today, mid-April. The letter was aboard the SpaceX Falcon rocket that launched out of Cape Canaveral, Florida last night.

“Yes, the real moon.” said Mayor Adler.

The Falcon is carrying a moon lander from commercial space exploration outfit SpaceIL, which in turn is carrying the Lunar Library from the Arch Mission Foundation. The physical archive is comprised of millions of documents laser etched in microscopic analog form on a radiation-proof nickel Nanofiche™ disk. It will be placed on the moon permanently.

Space IL’s moon lander will circle the moon in gradually descending orbit in order to facilitate a soft landing. The first and nominal landing opportunity will happen on April 11.

The Arch Mission Foundation’s goal is to archive all human knowledge permanently in space. The Foundation provided this opportunity to Austin’s Mayor. Also included in the Billion Year Archive are:

  • A full copy of the English language Wikipedia
  • 25,000 books and other resources, including collections from Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive
  • The Long Now Foundation Rosetta and PanLex datasets, which provide a linguistic key to 5000 languages with 1.5 billion cross-language translations.

As part of their program, the Arch Mission invited a limited number of celebrities, influencers, and dignitaries to make a contribution to the Lunar Library.

Mayor Adler’s letter includes a copy of the original, authentic, and never-before-published Kerbey Queso recipe from Kerbey Lane Cafe.

“We choose to send queso to the Moon – and maybe someday chips as well, not because these things are easy, but because they are hard,” said Mayor Adler. “The challenge to eat queso in zero gravity is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, among other key challenges, like next time remembering the chips.”

“We are so happy to take the recipe for our best selling item of all time to the moon,” said Kerbey Lane Cafe CEO Mason Ayer. “I suppose getting the ingredients together out there in space is a whole ‘nother story. But as central artifacts of civilization go, I can’t think of a more important, sustaining foodstuff. No archive, time capsule, library or vault is complete without queso. One day we hope the whole galaxy will benefit. Turns out, the moon isn’t really made of cheese. So we sent some.”

Adler also included a photo of Albert “Leslie” Cochran with the letter, together with an economic incentive package, in hopes of welcoming extraterrestrial visitors and future citizens. “If it helps your decision to visit, please know that extraterrestrial beings have already been to Austin, become cultural icons, and even run for Mayor – and they are forever welcome here. To wit, I am proudly enclosing a photo of Albert ‘Leslie’ Cochran”, the letter states. Adler declined to provide details about the image, commenting, “I’m not going to say exactly what the picture shows, but Leslie mooned Austin enough times. It was about time Austin mooned the moon.”

Mayor Adler’s letter to extraterrestrials ends on a more serious note, echoing President Carter’s message placed on the Voyager in 1977.

“It is my hope that on the future day that you read this, we will have solved the many things on this earth for which we are less proud. Presently, the world has not sufficiently responded to the dire threat of climate change and environmental injustice. And our society has let people become downtrodden, failing to recognize that each human being, regardless of the immutable characteristics of their birth or their station in life, is alive with the same fire that lights the stars at night. Austin today is working to make this a better universe by tackling homelessness and inequity, and through our support for the environment, restorative justice in our community, and the lasting beauty of our arts.

Perhaps a future time capsule will send happy news of our solutions to the vexing problems that threaten what is great in our city and our world. We in Austin do not just hope for a better and more just tomorrow, but are taking the difficult steps in the present, so we will survive our time and we may live into yours. May this message represent our continuing hope and determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”

View the letter in full here.

About Arch Mission Foundation

The Arch Mission Foundation is a non-profit organization that maintains a backup of planet Earth, designed to continuously preserve and disseminate humanity’s most important knowledge across time and space. The Arch Mission Foundation is preserving the knowledge and biology of our planet in a solar system wide project called The Billion Year Archive.™ Arch™ Libraries are the most durable records of human civilization ever built. Using new technologies, they preserve more knowledge for more time, than anything ever created. Arch™ Libraries are being designed in a variety of form factors to persist for long-durations on Earth, as well as in other locations across our solar system and beyond. The Arch Mission Foundation was co-founded by Nova Spivack and Nick Slavin. Other key early team members include Mathew Hoerl, Robert C. Jacobson, and Michael Paul. More information about team members and industry advisors can be found at http://www.archmission.org/crew.

For more information visit: http://www.archmission.org

About Mayor Steve Adler

Steve Adler is Austin’s 52nd Mayor and Mayor of All The Queso. His top priorities include mobility, affordability and equity for all Austinites. Adler has been elected a Vice President of the National Council of Democratic Mayors, a Trustee of the United States Conference of Mayors, and Chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) policy board.

Mayor Adler has received broad recognition for innovative ideas and leadership. Foreign Policy named him a Global reThinker and Living Cities included Mayor Adler on the list of 25 Disruptive Leaders (along with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and author Ta-Nehihi Coates) to mark that organization’s 25th anniversary. The Austin Chronicle readership has named Mayor Adler as Best City Official each year since 2016, and Chronicle critics named Adler Best Drag Mother for his turn as Mother Ginger in Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker and Most Devoted Pen Pal for his Wonder Woman letter. Austin Monthly has also named Mayor Adler “Best Politician” for “fearlessly speaking up for Austinites [and] proving that a little snark goes a long way to support the morale of a community.”

For more information visit: http://www.mayoradler.com

About Kerbey Lane Cafe

On May 5th, 1980, Kerbey Lane Cafe began operating out of a small house on Kerbey Lane in north- central Austin. Famous for its fluffy pancakes and delicious queso, Kerbey Lane Cafe is dedicated to serving house-made food that is local, fresh and affordable, while providing a welcoming and memorable experience to all who come through its doors. These simple principles helped grow Kerbey Lane Cafe from a single location operating out of a humble house into a beloved Austin institution with eight locations throughout the Austin area.

For more information, visit http://www.kerbeylanecafe.com.

Challenges and Opportunities on AISD Properties

Statement from Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Kathie Tovo

Our community is faced with a difficult situation related to the Austin Independent School District (AISD). Despite our city’s rapid growth, enrollment at several AISD schools continues to decline. The loss of thousands of students has worsened AISD’s funding challenges and presents the District with some tough choices, including the possibility of school closures, facility leasing, school consolidations, and boundary changes. At the same time, our city is grappling with challenges such as a lack of affordable housing, and finding places to provide parks and public facilities to meet growing community needs. Perhaps these two sets of challenges could add up to one good answer for our community: opportunities for some community needs to be met on all or part of repurposed AISD properties.

The Austin City Council recently adopted a resolution we co-sponsored along with Council Members Alter, Renteria, and Casar, directing City Manager Cronk to prioritize on-going, collaborative work with AISD to identify opportunities to achieve community goals on all or parts of AISD campuses that may be repurposed. Opportunities could include affordable housing in areas where we are seeing gentrification and displacement, workforce development, open space and recreation, child care, and other critical needs.

The community conversations underway will help AISD decide the future of several campuses, and it’s unclear at this time what the Board of Trustees will decide, or should decide. However, our hope is that letting the District know what possibilities exist to meet community needs on all or parts of some campus sites will, at the very least, be useful data points for AISD’s deliberations.

What is absolutely clear at this time is that the tough decisions ahead for AISD have been made even more difficult by our State’s broken school finance system, which is long overdue for a remodel. We applaud the statements we are hearing from our state leadership, which appear to reflect an authentic commitment to making meaningful progress during this legislative session on adequately and equitably funding our schools, while reducing the burden on local property tax payers. We stand ready to help the State find solutions.

-Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Kathie Tovo