AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin residents voted during the May election to reinstate the city’s camping ban. But what happens next? We are compiling a list of all the answers we’re able to get from city, county and state leaders and providing them here.
What is a camping ban?
Prop B, which voters passed on May 1, makes it a criminal offense — a Class-C misdemeanor punishable by a fine — if you sit, lie down, or camp on public property. It also prohibits panhandling at specific hours and locations.
Most camping bans, including the one the City of Austin used for years, defines camping as “storing personal belongings, using a tent/car as a living accommodation, and cooking.”
While this new rule applies to public property, it’s important to note that camping on someone’s private property or on parkland was never allowed.
Recreational camping or cooking that’s allowed by permit at camp sites in a park is not impacted.
When will the new Austin camping ban go into effect?
Camping in the City of Austin will no longer be legal starting Tuesday, May 11.
How will the City of Austin enforce the new camping ban?
On Monday, May 10, the City of Austin leaders released a timeline and details about the roll out of the ban.
The ban will be rolled out in four phases. Here’s what we know so far:
Phase 1 – Effective May 11, a 30-day period of community engagement and education will begin. During this time, the Austin Police Department will provide verbal warnings to those found camping — in addition to resource information. This excludes instances that are of imminent safety or health concern.
Phase 2 – Phase 2 will be another 30-day period, during which APD will begin issuing written warnings and initial citations.
Phase 3 – During Phase 3, APD may initiate arrests and/or begin clearing out encampments in areas that have not been cleared following citations.
Phase 4 – During Phase 4, citations and arrests will continue as needed. APD will work with City of Austin homeless outreach teams to help provide further information on resources, when available.
The City of Austin says the undertaking will be a group effort, saying in part:
“… Implementation of the ordinance will require a coordinated effort among multiple departments including the Austin Police Department, the Homeless Strategy Division, the Homeless Outreach Street Team, the Downtown Austin Community Court, Parks and Recreation Department, and others.“
A big component of this approach is expected to include education for those experiencing homelessness. Austin Police have acknowledged in the past that “anytime there’s a change, there’s a little bit of confusion.”
What will happen if the City of Austin does not enforce the camping ban?
On May 5, the Texas House passed a bill to institute a camping ban statewide.
House Bill 1925 would make it a Class-C misdemeanor for people to knowingly camp on a public place. The potential law would also punish local governments that do not enforce the ban. It’s identical to a similar bill in the Texas Senate which remains in committee.
The bill could give the state’s conservative leaders the tools they need to either compel the Austin City Council to enforce the camping ban or to potentially enforce the ban itself using Department of Public Safety resources. READ MORE
How many homeless people are there in Austin?
According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, the exact number is difficult to calculate “because people fall into and exit from homelessness all the time.” However, in January 2020, the Point in Time (PIT) Count identified 2,506 people. Of those, 932 were unsheltered, meaning they were sleeping without a roof over their head. A PIT Count for January 2021 did not occur due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But other estimates from ECHO and Integral Care indicate between 5,000 to 9,000 unique people experience homelessness every year — if not more. READ MORE
What do homeless people think of the new camping ban?
Many homeless people are upset about the change to the city’s camping ordinance. They have set up tents at Austin City Hall to protest the change. Groups representing homeless people say it creates barriers to ending homelessness. And those who are homeless were even more blunt:
“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 person experiencing homelessness told KXAN. READ MORE
What will happen to people who don’t obey the camping ban?
Starting May 11, homeless people who do not obey the city’s new camping ban could face fines, court dates or imprisonment. It was this so-called “criminalization of homelessness” that prompted Austin city leaders to do away with the camping ban in 2019. READ MORE
Even before Austin started allowing public camping, a 2017 city audit found that “APD’s unofficial policy is to give people 30 minutes to move before issuing a citation” in an effort to limit citations. “APD wrote 63% fewer sit/lie citations in fiscal year 2016 than they did in fiscal year 2014,” the auditors wrote. (Nov. 2017 Audit, Page 5)
What will the City of Austin do with all the homeless people?
In the short-term, the City of Austin has not said what it will do to the homeless people in Austin, how it will try to house them or if it will try to move them. It’s one of the biggest questions that people who help those experiencing homelessness are trying to get answered.
Long-term, the City is working on a larger plan though. Two days after Austin voters overwhelmingly supported reinstating the camping ban, the Austin City Council Housing and Planning Committee voted on May 3 to advance a plan of housing 3,000 people experiencing homelessness over the next three years — a plan that emerged from a homelessness summit in April.
In order to house 3,000 people in three years, 2,300 rental units would be secured by offering incentives to landlords while another 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing would be developed. READ MORE
Didn’t the City of Austin buy hotels to house the homeless?
The City of Austin has purchased three hotels to use as sites to house the homeless and transition them to permanent housing. City leaders want to buy a fourth hotel — the former Candlewood Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard — despite a lawsuit attempting to stop it.
There is some evidence that previous sites the city bought have helped pull people out of homelessness.
Jason Fleischman spoke to KXAN in February. He says addiction nearly killed him eight months earlier.
He used to live beneath U.S. 183 in north Austin but was brought to the former Country Inn & Suites. The city bought that hotel as a way to transition those who are homeless to permanent housing. Fleischman said it saved his life. He now works part-time and signed a lease for his own apartment. READ MORE
What will happen to the state-sponsored homeless camp in southeast Austin?
In November 2019, five months after Austin got rid of its camping ban, the state of Texas cleared many people out of highway underpasses and offered them a home on state land in southeast Austin by U.S. Highway 183 and Montopolis Drive.
The since-named Esperanza Community has 24/7 security and resources for those experiencing homelessness. That homeless site will not be impacted by the new camping ban in Austin. Its future is up to state leaders.
Last November, plans were announced to build 200 tiny homes on the five-acre property.
Author: Wes Wilson
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin