AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin residents voted to reinstate the city’s camping ban during the May election. But what happens next? We have compiled a list of all the answers we can get from city, county, and state leaders and include them here.
What is a camping ban?
Prop B, which voters passed on May 1, makes sitting, lying down, or camping on public land a criminal offense – a Class C offense punishable by fines. It also prohibits panhandling at certain times and in certain places.
Most camping bans, including the one used by the City of Austin for years, define camping as “storing personal items, using a tent / car for living and cooking.”
While this new rule applies to public ownership, it’s important to note that camping was never allowed on private property or in parkland.
This does not affect recreational camping or cooking that is permitted on campsites in a park with a permit.
When does Austin’s new camping ban come into effect?
Camping in the city of Austin will no longer be legal as of Tuesday May 11th.
How will the city of Austin enforce the new camping ban?
Tents surround Austin City Hall to protest the city’s new camping ban (KXAN Photo)
As of Monday, May 10, neither the Austin city nor the Austin Police have given details of how the new camping ban will be enforced.
City manager Spencer Cronk was out of town Monday and no one in his office would be talking about enforcement plans.
City officials said more information could be released in an email at some point on Monday. It also turned reporters back on a statement released on Friday, May 7th:
“City officials are currently working on developing a phased implementation of the Camping Ordinance starting May 11th, with an emphasis on health, safety and connection to services wherever possible. Implementing the ordinance requires a coordinated effort from multiple departments including the Austin Police Department, the Homeless Strategy Department, the Homeless Outreach Street Team, the Downtown Austin Community Court, the Parks and Recreation Department, and others. “
But here, too, details and a schedule for these phases have not yet been announced.
Education for the homeless is expected to be an important part of this approach. The Austin Police Department has recognized in the past that “every time something changes, there is a little confusion”.
What if the city of Austin fails to enforce the camping ban?
On May 5, Texas House passed a statute prohibiting camping.
House Bill 1925 would make it a Class C offense for people knowingly to camp in a public place. The potential law would also penalize local governments that fail to enforce the ban. It is identical to a similar bill in the Texas Senate that remains on committee.
The bill could give Conservative heads of state the tools they need to either force the Austin City Council to enforce the camping ban, or possibly enforce the ban themselves using the resources of the Department of Public Safety. CONTINUE READING
Volunteer Andrew Willard interviewed people affected by homelessness in a tent in Austin near Rainey Street on January 25, 2020. This poll annually conducts Point in Time Count, a census conducted in communities across the country among people with homelessness. (KXAN Photo / Alyssa Goard).
How many homeless are there in Austin?
According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), the exact number is difficult to calculate “because people are constantly falling into and leaving homelessness”. In January 2020, however, the PIT (point in time) count identified 2,506 people. Of these, 932 were unprotected, which meant they slept without a roof over their heads. A PIT count for January 2021 did not occur due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, other estimates by ECHO and Integral Care show that between 5,000 and 9,000 people become homeless each year – if not more. CONTINUE READING
What do homeless people think of the new camping ban?
Many homeless people are upset about the change in the city’s camping regulations. They set up tents in Austin City Hall to protest the change. Groups representing the homeless say this creates barriers to ending homelessness. And those who are homeless were even more dull:
“It will be a death sentence for a lot of people if we don’t fight it and make sure the police don’t enforce it,” one homeless person told KXAN. CONTINUE READING
What happens to people who do not adhere to the camping ban?
As of May 11, homeless people who fail to abide by the city’s new camping ban can face fines, court hearings or imprisonment. It was this so-called “criminalization of homelessness” that led Austin city guides to lift the camping ban in 2019. CONTINUE READING
Even before Austin began allowing public camping, a 2017 city audit found that “The APD’s unofficial policy is to allow people 30 minutes to get around before issuing a quote” in order to limit the number of quotes . “APD wrote 63% fewer sit / lie quotes in the 2016 financial year than in the 2014 financial year,” write the auditors. (Audit Nov. 2017, page 5)
Erica Soto, 46, holds up a peace sign and stares into a blue sky above her tent in the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Austin. Soto was elected councilor of the camp community and makes changes such as renaming the camp to “Esperanza Community”. November 11, 2020. (KXAN Photo / Alyssa Goard).
What will the city of Austin do for all the homeless?
In the short term, the city of Austin has not said what it will do to the Austin homeless, how it will try to accommodate them, or whether it will try to move them. It’s one of the biggest questions that people helping the homeless are trying to answer.
In the long term, however, the city is working on a larger plan. Two days after Austin voters overwhelmingly approved the reintroduction of the camping ban, the Austin City Council’s Housing and Planning Committee voted on May 3 to advance a plan to house 3,000 people with homelessness over the next three years – a plan that emerged from a homelessness summit in April.
To accommodate 3,000 people in three years, 2,300 rental units would be secured through incentives for landlords, while another 1,000 residential units would be developed with permanent support. CONTINUE READING
Didn’t the city of Austin buy hotels to house the homeless?
The city of Austin has purchased three hotels to serve as sites for housing the homeless and converting them into permanent housing. City guides want to buy a fourth hotel – the former Candlewood Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard – despite a lawsuit trying to stop it.
There is evidence that previous locations the city bought helped lift people out of homelessness.
Jason Fleischman spoke to KXAN in February. He says addiction almost killed him eight months earlier.
He lived in North Austin under US 183 but was moved to the former Country Inn & Suites. The city bought this hotel to convert the homeless into permanent housing. Fleischman said it saved his life. He now works part-time and has signed a lease for his own apartment. CONTINUE READING
Jason Fleischman, 46, Fleischman now works part-time and signed a lease for his own apartment on Tuesday. He says he was on his death bed as a homeless person and lived on US Highway 183 in June 2020. (KXAN Photo)
What will happen to the state-sponsored homeless camp in southeast Austin?
Work teams of people made homeless by The Other Ones Foundation assembled these tiny houses with parts from the Pallet company in the state-sanctioned homeless camp in southeast Austin. November 24, 2020. (KXAN Photo / Alyssa Goard).
In November 2019, five months after Austin lifted its camping ban, the state of Texas cleared many people of freeway underpasses and offered them homes on state lots in southeast Austin on US Highway 183 and Montopolis Drive.
Named since then, the Esperanza Community provides 24/7 security and resources for the homeless. This homeless place won’t be affected by the new Austin camping ban. Their future lies with the heads of state.
Last November, plans were announced to build 200 tiny houses on the five-acre property.