City looking to create jobs for cleaning up homeless camps under Austin freeways

The Austin City Council will consider paying a company to clean up homeless camps under the highways (File photo: CBS Austin)

Work crews could soon begin playing catch-up on a highly-visible problem. They’ll be hauling off the garbage that has been piling up around makeshift camps under busy Austin freeways. The city has a long-term plan to keep the area clean, but it's going to cost millions.

TxDOT used to pick up the trash through a contract with Workquest-- formerly known as Texas Industries for the Blind and Handicapped-- but allowed the contract to lapse in 2019. Then the City of Austin picked up the contract in March of last year for $390,000. But the work stopped a few weeks ago to protect workers from coronavirus, and that's what caused the garbage to pileup.

Today the Austin City Council will consider paying Workquest an additional $100,000 to pick up the backlog and another $1.8 million to extend the contract an additional three years. So the total will be close to $2.3 million over four years.

And they're not the only ones picking up the trash near areas occupied by people experiencing homelessness. Project Pickup: Austin organizes cleanups along greenbelts and waterways. Aaron Hlusko is one of the organizers. He says, “We didn't really want to believe that the homeless might be contributing to the issue but seeing it firsthand it is kind of what is going on."

The group has another cleanup planned for this Saturday. If you want to volunteer, look for Project Pickup: Austin on Facebook.