What abandoned shopping carts say about our city
Updated: Nov 8
In a few short years, Austin has gone from Live Music Capital of the World to the Abandoned Shopping Cart Capital of Texas.
On Thursday (Oct. 19) MOVE Candlewood and Documenting Austin's Streets and Homeless (DASH) delivered 12 abandoned carts to Austin City Hall -- one for each Council member, Mayor, and City Manager (see list below). They were asked to come pick up their designated cart and help us find its rightful owner, but no takers on short notice.
Each cart was located off Pecan Park Boulevard in close proximity to the under-construction former Candlewood Suites, which is being redeveloped for $15 million as a permanent supportive housing shelter for roughly 70 people.
We all know what these abandoned carts are used for by those experiencing homelessness. To haul clothes and other belongings around. To stretch out blankets and tarps for temporary shelter. They’ve even been used as barbecue grills over the free propane tanks given to them.
They may look like stray carts to the causal observer and not be given another thought. But every time you see one these carts around town, think of what it means for the following people:
Retail business owners: They don’t want their shopping carts back because it takes too long and costs too much in terms of manpower to find them and haul them back. And if returned, they’re often badly damaged. Each one is a loss of $175, at least.
Other business owners: When visitors to our city are greeted with a shopping cart on every corner, do you think this makes them want to stay? Or go further out? Or maybe just stay for a few hours in Austin and then drive somewhere else?
Homeowners: Your taxes are going up. You’re about to have to deal with apartments being built on single-family lots. But are your home values going up? Even here in boomtown USA, it can be hard to sell a property next to a homeless camp. We’re told a townhome adjacent to the Northbridge shelter has been on the market for over a year. (Yes, in Austin.)
The Homeless: It may be nice to grab a cart whenever you need one. But each cart subconsciously says there aren’t enough police to keep an eye on our stores. Your city doesn’t have an actual plan to help you conquer addiction or mental illness. They want you to camp out until they can find an apartment for you to continue in your existing problems. Is that the message we want to send to those who need our help the most?
No surprise that these banged-up buggies aren’t being returned – but why do we think we can trust the homeless with their own city-funded apartment as a first step? It’s insanity to think they’ll treat their apartments much better than stolen shopping carts!
We already know about the Northbridge shelter problem. Now the city is looking for outside help to manage it, and its twin sister, Southbridge. We just learned through an open records request Southbridge has had 30 incidents involving police so far this year.
"In a few short years, and thanks in large part to the Austin Chaos Council, we have gone from Live Music Capital of the World to the Abandoned Shopping Cart Capital of Texas," said Rupal Chaudhari, founder of MOVE Candlewood. "Each of these abandoned carts is a warning sign. It's time for a major course-correction before it's too late."
Pecan Park resident Tom Henry questioned what interest the Council has placing these shelters and vacant future shelters in working-class neighborhoods --- where these carts are often left. "Where are the early intervention programs that were promised and paid for? Do our city programs save anyone on the verge of becoming yet another member of this lost group of society? Of course not! They turn their backs on their campaign promises and pretend that they don’t exist. They put them in their rear-view mirror as soon as they have served their political posturing purposes. Candlewood does not serve a sadly growing sector of our neighbors. Rather, it perpetuates more of the same."
The 12 abandoned carts were addressed to Mayor Kirk Watson, Council members
Natasha Harper-Madison (District 1), Vanessa Fuentes (District 2), José Velásquez
(District 3), José “Chito” Vela (District 4), Ryan Alter (District 5), Mackenzie Kelly
(District 6), Leslie Pool (District 7), Paige Ellis (District 8), Zohaib "Zo" Qadri
(District 9), Alison Alter (District 10), and City Manager Jesús Garza.