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Austin Is Reviewing 70 City-Owned Sites To Set Up Encampments For People Experiencing Homelessness

A view of the Esperanza community, a 150-person sanctioned encampment for people experiencing homelessness.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The Esperanza community, a 150-person sanctioned encampment for people experiencing homelessness, sits on a plot of state-owned land in Southeast Austin.

This week, Austin began a "phased" approach to reinstating the city's ban on camping in public, along with limitations on resting and panhandling that were approved by voters earlier this month.

In response, the Austin City Council asked the city manager to identify campsites that could house people who are displaced by the camping ban.

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey came back with a memo on Friday that says the city has reviewed at least 70 city-owned locations that could serve as city-sanctioned encampment sites, which would provide water hookups, parking facilities and other amenities for people living outdoors.

Grey's memo doesn't say where those sites are, but it includes a preliminary cost estimate for the sanctioned encampments.

The city estimates a 50-person site on at least 2 acres of land would cost at least $1.3 million a year to maintain. A 4-acre, 100-person site would cost the city at least $1.87 million annually.

Those costs include paying for security, storage options for residents, utilities, trash-collection, meals and costs for on-site services, the memo says.

Setting up sanctioned encampments is a strategy that city staff had considered back in 2019, right after the City Council rescinded the city's camping ban. Cronk's office panned the idea back then, arguing it wasn't an effective method to get people into housing and that keeping up camps was a drain on the overall homelessness response system.

But after Austin voters roundly rejected the City Council's earlier actions and OK'd reinstating criminal penalties on camping, sitting or lying down and panhandling, the city reconsidered the strategy.

Grey's memo says city staff has reviewed 70 sites that are city-owned and could fit the bill.

The properties are managed by several city agencies, including the Parks and Recreation Department, the Austin Housing and Finance Corporation, Austin Public Works, Austin Resource Recovery and Austin Water.

The city aims to put at least one encampment in each of Austin's 10 City Council districts.

On top of the plan to set up sanctioned encampments, the city is also moving forward with the so-called HEAL initiative, a plan to move people staying at encampments across the city into temporary shelter before connecting them with housing.

The sanctioned camp plan isn't a lock. Cronk's office still has to come back to the Council with a timetable and more specifics by June 1.

The list of possible locations comes as the city is reinstating the camping ban after the passage of Proposition B earlier this month. People won't face penalties for now, but ticketing at some camps could begin by June 14. Thirty days after that, Austin police say officers could arrest people who are in violation of the camping ban and potentially clear encampments after giving a three-day notice.

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