Austin City Council Could Use E-Scooter Regulations To Limit Homeless Encampments, Memo Says

Aug 30, 2019

City officials released additional guidelines Friday on how to limit homeless encampments in Austin – including spatial limitations on sidewalks and along waterways. The memo from the city manager and the Homeless Strategy Office is meant to guide the Austin City Council as it rolls out a plan to limit resting and camping in public.

The memo suggests the city council could limit encampments on sidewalks by adopting restrictions similar to current city laws on e-scooter parking, which require at least 3 feet of passage for pedestrians and vehicles.

Read the entire memo here.

"In the same manner that parking micro-mobility devices can obstruct pedestrian traffic, the objects belonging to individuals experiencing homelessness could also obstruct pedestrian traffic," the memo reads.

Mayor Steve Adler said today that the City Council could look to the Austin Transportation Department to map out where camping and resting is prohibited – similar to how the department bans bikes on sidewalks. 

“Those laws already exist. Those sanctions already exist in their place. But, yes, I see us being clearer about and widening that to include places where people should not be," he said. " I have seen people camping and sitting in this city in places that are dangerous – and we need to prevent that."

Adler said the city could use the map of sidewalks on which cycling is banned as a framework, then build out a list of restricted areas.

The memo also suggests councilmembers look to policies in Berkeley, Calif., which prohibit encampments with a footprint larger than 9 square feet.

It also recommends limiting encampments in areas with high vehicle and pedestrian traffic, suggesting the city adopt rules that require people camping near roadways to be at a minimum distance – though the memo doesn't suggest how far away.

As for encampments along waterways, Austin's Watershed Protection Department suggested to the city manager that the city adopt temporary rules banning camping in historic floodplains. The department says it could fold those limitations into its Atlas 14 floodplain regulations, which it expects to present to councilmembers soon.

Finally, the memo suggests the city develop nonpunitive options for police enforcing potential rules limiting where people can camp, sit or lie down in public.

Currently, these activities are not expressly prohibited in Austin unless someone poses a health or safety risk, completely obstructs a right of way, or does them on private property or city parkland.

The memo suggests the city engage with the Downtown Austin Community Court and the Homeless Outreach Street Team to divert homeless Austinites into case management, rather than ticket them.

Adler said the city expects to provide specifics on the restrictions in the next few weeks. City Council will act on those suggestions at its meeting on Sept. 19.