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Austin Is Reinstating A Ban On Public Camping. Here's What That Means.

Downtown Austin by ARCH 09 26 19.jpg
Julia Reihs
/
KUT

Proposition B, a measure to reinstate bans on behavior related to homelessness in Austin, passed by a 15-point margin, drawing a huge turnout in a typically sleepy off-year May election.

The citizen-led petition was a response to the Austin City Council's vote in 2019 to soften its policy of ticketing people for camping, resting or panhandling. Opponents said the rollback led to a proliferation of encampments that made the city unsafe and weren't an effective strategy to dealing with homelessness in Austin.

So what now?

Here's a rundown of what will take effect and when.

When will the old rules go back into effect?

May 11.

What exactly will be banned now?

The citizen-led effort largely campaigned on a reinstatement of citywide bans on encampments, save for areas allowed by the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

Camping under overpasses and in other public areas is illegal under the reinstated rules. Encampments on parkland, which had been illegal, are still not allowed.

The ordinance also reinstates a ban on resting in UT's West Campus, downtown and in a sliver of East Austin.

Here's a map of that area:

sit-lie ban area.png

Folks sitting or lying down in these areas could be ticketed if they're sleeping or otherwise obstructing a sidewalk. A police officer must first warn people, giving them a chance to move, before citing them. Violating the ordinance is a class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

A panhandling curfew will also go into effect citywide. Folks will no longer be able to panhandle from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Prop B also reinstated some limitations on what's deemed "aggressive" panhandling — including asking for money near ATMs or banks, bus stops or restaurant patios.

How does the city plan to enforce the reinstated rules?

That's not quite clear.

In 2019, the Austin Police Department released revised training bulletins on how best to enforce the rules shortly before they went into effect in July and again after City Council tweaked the rules in the fall.

KUT asked APD whether it would do the same after Prop B's passage, but a spokesperson could not immediately say when the department would update its guidelines.

Asked how the police would enforce the rules, an APD spokesperson directed KUT to the city.

A city spokesperson said the city is "evaluating options for how to best implement the new ordinance" and that it's going to reach out to folks in encampments who could "present higher health and safety risks" ahead of May 11.

The spokesperson also said that the city is "advancing a solution" to address homelessness, namely by focusing on providing housing.

According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), which coordinates Austin's homelessness response, 1,879 people were housed last year, an 8% increase over the year before.

What are the plans to get people experiencing homelessness into homes?

There are a couple irons in the fire on that front.

The city recently laid out a plan to house as many as 3,000 people in the next three years, setting a benchmark of housing at least 700 people by the end of 2021.

It's also set to roll out its so-called HEAL initiative this summer. Under that plan, the city will target four high-profile encampments, connect those living there with housing and then prohibit camping in those areas going forward. People displaced from the camps will stay at the former Rodeway Inn near Oltorf Street and I-35, which has become a temporary shelter.

City Council first set aside money to buy the hotel in late 2019. It has been housing people at risk of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The Austin City Council is expected to approve the opening of the Rodeway shelter at its meeting Thursday.

Council will also debate a last-minute resolution Council Member Kathie Tovo filed Monday that could push the city to identify land and resources for possible encampments. If that item passes, City Manager Spencer Cronk would have to come back to Council with suggestions on that plan on or before May 14.

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