AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday, the head of Austin’s police union posted a video to social media showing a Giddings Police Dept. officer dropping someone off at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.
“That’s just a disgrace,” Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday can be heard saying on the video. “These other counties need to be held accountable and take care of their own folks.”
Giddings is 55 miles east of Austin. The police chief there, Haril Walpole, confirmed to KXAN on Wednesday that, yes, one of his officers brought a man experiencing homelessness to Austin. But that was only after the man’s family turned him away and the town of just over 5,000 ran out of resources to help him.
Walpole said that this was the department’s first transportation of an individual experiencing homelessness to Austin in his seven years as chief.
“I hope that I’m a compassionate person and I feel for his needs. I think about what’s going through his head as he’s breaking into a garage at night so that he doesn’t have to sleep outside,” Walpole said. “I don’t like other agencies bringing their issues to us and I certainly don’t want to do that to them. Unfortunately, it just led to that.”
Like many smaller communities, Giddings doesn’t have the volume of individuals experiencing homelessness to warrant the construction of a shelter and the city doesn’t have the money to build one, anyway.
State funding to support homelessness efforts in rural communities would go a long way, Walpole said.
“There needs to be more long-term assistance, particularly for those who have mental conditions that need help in that area,” Walpole said.
Casaday, the Austin police union president, said agencies in surrounding counties routinely bring homeless individuals to Austin. KXAN has reached out to law enforcement agencies to verify his claim.
The Comal County Sheriff’s Office said it has never, and would never, transport homeless individuals to Austin.
The majority of individuals experiencing homelessness in Austin-Travis Country became homeless while living in Austin, according to an annual point-in-time count conducted by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.
In 2020, Austin was the first location of homelessness for 63.4% of individuals counted, while 19.4% first became homeless elsewhere in Texas.
Matt Mollica, executive director of ECHO, said it’s common for those experiencing homelessness in outlying areas to move toward urban centers, which have more resources to help. But he said rural areas need to prioritize housing, too.
“We need to be able to figure out how to sustain people in housing, in their communities where they choose to be,” Mollica said.
KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full report at 6 p.m.