AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley held a press conference to discuss where his department stands when it comes to the enforcement of the homeless ordinances that changed in July.
Manley has requested that the old homeless ordinances be put back in place until city leaders come up with a more permanent solution. He also requested that camping be banned on all sidewalks in downtown Austin.
“I have suggested we put back the old ordinances in place while we work through a final solution,” Chief Manley said.
He has not received a response to his request from city council but explained how his department has been handling citations against homeless people since the new ordinances went into effect.
The new ordinances allow homeless people to sit, lie and camp in public places as long as they are not a threat to the public. Manley explained that if any pedestrian has to step off of the sidewalk or step over someone or their belongings, that is a violation and the person doing the obstructing will be cited. He said homeless people in areas that have been closed because of special events like marathons or concerts will also be in violation.
“For obstruction to be a violation, we have to show that it is either endangering or blocking others,” Manley said.
Similarly, if someone in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller cannot get through an area while walking in a straight line because of a homeless person or their belongings, a citation will be issued.
Chief Manley said his department has been overwhelmed with calls since they started enforcing the new rules back in July. He said it’s been something of a domino effect: with more people out on the streets, Austinites’ level of concern has been raised and so police officers are fielding more calls.
“A lot of individuals who were living off the grid, living out in the woods, living out of sight, have now moved into public space onto sidewalks, under bridges because they can. Because the changes in the ordinances allow them to do that,” Chief Manley said
Watch the full press conference below:
Manley says APD will be working with Austin Resource Recovery to remove items such as mattresses or other furniture from public spaces.
“We know that these are intended for indoor use. They are not meant to be outside. They are not meant to be in the elements,” said Manley. “They can be health hazards due to the ability for lice, for bed bugs, for typhoid, all the like, so we are now going to enforce that as a health safety hazard.”
This press conference comes one day after Gov. Abbott sent a letter and an ultimatum to Mayor Steve Adler, demanding progress on the city’s “homeless crisis” by Nov. 1, or threatening state intervention. Adler was quick to respond saying he would welcome aid from the state.
Reaction from the public
The people KXAN spoke to said while new guidelines for enforcing homeless ordinances is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t elminate the real problem.
Sunrise Church pastor and director of the church’s homeless navigation center, Mark Hilbelink, said the city council has only applied band-aids to a greater problem: housing.
“I think we are dealing with a gray problem and we are fooling ourselves if we address it with a black and white solution,” Hilbelink said.
He thinks rescinding the homeless ordinances would be a mistake.
“I don’t think fully rescinding the ordinances is the right way to go,” Hilbelink said. “I think we’d all like to see some hopefulness, but I’m not sure any of us have a good pathway on how to make that happen.”
Others, like Sean Leeka, a 29-year-old software engineer living in downtown Austin, said the city council needs to revoke the ordinances to put things back the way they used to be.
“A lot of people I know, a lot of women are terrified to walk at night, they can’t go running on the trails at dark,” Leeka said. “Just within a few blocks from here, there are a lot of people camping. They are eating, sleeping, using the restroom right on the sidewalks. It’s a huge mess.”