Austin Ball decided to run for city council because he saw the community slide into crime, homelessness and economic decay.
Ball hopes voters will trust him to protect the Ward 1 neighborhood from further decline. His opponent, incumbent Brandi Studley, recently announced that she will be moving from Norman by the end of January.
Studley’s name will appear on the ballot, however, and voters could still elect her.
Council elections are held every two years, with elections for odd-numbered units during odd-numbered years and elections for even-numbered units during even years.
Ball said he’s watched businesses like the Super Saver grocery store leave behind vacant buildings and large parking lots as homelessness and crime move in.
“My wife no longer feels safe going to 7-11,” he told The Transcript. “I live right across the street from the children’s school. They go to school with their cousins and my in-laws live just down the road.
“I love this neighborhood, but what has happened to it in the last two years has completely broken my heart.”
Ball said he felt the call to run as a necessity after seeing his protégé decline and after saying he didn’t feel his council member was hearing him.
“I think we need a change,” he said.
The change doesn’t mean Ball won’t support initiatives the current president has championed, such as affordable housing and resources for the homeless.
He called the impact of the unprotected camps a “crisis” that he understands because he has a family member who is homeless.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “If a person is willing to give up his family, his children, his identity, know that you have reached a point where none of us can do anything.”
Ball said the family member is an example of the reality that some don’t want help, but will use the emergency resource system to stay on drugs “and do whatever they want.”
“We constantly provide a hot meal and a roof over a cold night, but we kick them out in the morning … we don’t hold them accountable and make them want to succeed,” he said. “We’re just giving them the tools to stay complacent and stay in the hole they’re in.”
While Ball said he supports the emergency warming shelter, certain resources such as business and financial counseling or mental health counseling should be a requirement.
“I think we should do everything we can,” he said. “In an emergency we have to get people in, but we don’t have to let them get complacent.”
Ball supports affordable housing and noted that the months-long waiting list for housing assistance has left the city “far behind where we need to be.”
“There definitely needs to be temporary housing, but what we don’t need to do is allow tent cities like the one behind Food & Shelter,” he said.
Food & Shelter is a non-profit organization that offers housing case management with on-site housing and food assistance at 2001 Reed Avenue.
Homelessness has also created public safety concerns and deters potential business development, he said.
A local business owner told him that people without shelter had used the building’s window unit to climb onto an adjacent roof where the building’s owner found evidence of the fire. After the owner removed the sleeping bag from under the unit, the glass was broken the next day.
That’s not the only negative story Ball has heard.
“We have to look out for our neighbors,” he said. “We want businesses to come here, but when we bring them here to show it, there are three homeless people and a broken window. No one wants to open a company in such an area.”
Protecting your neighborhood from vandalism and crime also means trusting the police to help when they can.
“We have to stop thinking that the police are bad people,” he said. “They are there to help us, but they need to know what is going on. We have to report it, but we have to look out for each other.”
Ball made an effort in that direction when he invited residents to attend the East Norman Community Safety and Awareness event on Jan. 10 to help prevent crime. The Norman Police Department shared tips to increase safety and how residents can help with crime investigations.
Crime prevention is a subject consistent with Ball’s education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminology from the University of Oklahoma in 2006. He also served in the US Marine Corps and the Oklahoma Army National Guard before being wounded in 2012.
He’s a fully disabled veteran, but he loves his day job as a stay-at-home dad.
“Being in the army I missed so many birthdays and holidays,” he said. “This is amazing because it gives me the opportunity to actually be more involved in my kids’ lives and be here.”