In June 2019, the Austin City Council repealed an ordinance that prohibited homeless camping. The city cited their decision based on how ineffective the ordinance has been to date. In other words, “criminalizing” homelessness only adds additional barriers (court dates, fines, misdemeanors, etc) for someone trying to escape the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Mayor Adler pointed out that between 2014-2016, the city issued 18,000 tickets to homeless individuals, but the city saw very little positive change from issuing these tickets.
In addition to the freedom given to the homeless to sleep out in the open unrestricted, the city also unanimously lifted the ban on sitting on sidewalks/panhandling and unanimously approved buying property for a new homeless shelter near Ben White Boulevard & Bannister Lane.
However, one barrier that the city perhaps did not consider fully were the residents of Austin. Repealing the ordinance has met with severe backlash, particularly from downtown business owners who are now seeing decreased business and increased security concerns due to tent cities popping up downtown. In addition, some residents of South Austin near the Ben White and Bannister Lane new homeless shelter location are not happy about the impact that the city’s decision might have on their home property values.
Another person is not happy with the city’s decision: the Governor of Texas. Just days after the Council’s decision, the Texas state governor, Greg Abbott, got involved , threatening a state intervention to undo the council’s 9-2 decision. Abbott said, “If Austin—or any other Texas city—permits camping on city streets it will be yet another local ordinance the State of Texas will override.”
On August 21, 2019 the city council met again and gave opportunity for residents to express concern and voice questions. Mayor Adler stated that he still believes the city is heading in the right direction by lifting the ordinance and trying to address the homeless problem a different way. The city announced at the August meeting that they would not create “safe spaces” for tent cities to be constructed, since over time this would be a drain on the tax payer dollar. However, one “safety” proposition that was suggested was that the city issue new restrictions on homeless camping in areas adjacent to roadways, medians and transit facilities, as well as sidewalks, trails, schools, child care facilities, areas with high pedestrian activity, shelters and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. These new restrictions will likely would be up for a council vote in September.
The next opportunity for people to attend a forum on homelessness is on August 29 at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs. Register here.
So what is your position on this? Do you agree with the governor or the mayor? Have you noticed an increase in homeless activity in your neighborhood or area since the ordinance was lifted? What should the city do moving forward to address both the needs of the homeless population and the needs of small business owners and residents as well? Sound off in the comments below!
RECAP OF TIMELINE:
June 21, 2019: City council repeals ordinances restricting homeless camping, panhandling, and sitting on sidewalks.
June 23, 2019: Gov Abbott threatens to overturn Austin’s easing of homelessness rules
Aug 21, 2019: Two months of backlash from the city and Texas Governor: Town Hall meeting in which the Mayor and City council heard concerns and answered questions. However, the city upheld the repeal and will only consider a few new restrictions on tent cities.
Aug 29, 2019: Forum on homelessness at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs.
September council meeting: the City will vote on proposed new restrictions to limit some areas of town where tent cities would not be allowed.