AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday night, Austin City Council voted to still allow homeless camping, except in certain areas and under certain specific conditions.
In a 7-4 vote, Council voted on restrictions that will:
- ban public camping on sidewalks
- allow sitting/lying on sidewalks unless the sidewalk is within 15 feet of a door of an operating business during business hours, or residence
- ban sitting/lying/camping around the ARCH. The prohibited area is bordered by East 4th St, Brushy St., E. 11th St., and Brazos St., excluding any areas under I-35.
- ban camping on land with a high wildfire risk
The changes come following months of contentious debate over where Austin’s homeless can sit, lie and camp.
Public camping has become increasingly visible after council members relaxed sit, lie and camp rules back in June.
Council members Alter, Pool, Tovo and Kitchen voted against the restrictions, claiming they didn’t go far enough.
Camping bans on street medians, ADA ramps, under overpasses and within 5 feet of creek or river banks were on the table, but ultimately not approved.
Some council members expressed concern that not making more restrictions clear would not keep people safe and could leave the city legally liable.
Council member Pool brought up the scenario of someone getting hit by a car while camping on a street median.
“Somebody could die, and that’s on us,” she said. “Is that okay? I don’t think that’s okay.”
Local leaders react
In a statement on Friday, Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley said:
“The Austin Police Department remains committed to working with the City Council, fellow city departments, social service groups, those experiencing homelessness, and others as we strive to end homelessness in our community. We will update our training bulletins and direction to officers to reflect the additional enforcement authorities contained in the updated ordinance.”
In a Friday statement from John Wittman, of Gov. Abbott’s press team, the governor’s office said, part:
“By reforming its homelessness policy, the city of Austin has taken a meaningful step to address the safety and health of Texans – including the homeless. The state will monitor how well the new policy actually reduces the skyrocketing complaints about attacks by the homeless and other public safety concerns. The state will also continue to monitor water quality for e-coli and other bacteria.”
Wittman also stated that the Texas Department of Transportation will work to clear homeless campus under bridges, in addition to working with APD, the University of Texas and all statewide facilities to ensure safety and security.
“To help achieve best results, the Governor is also working with homeless shelters in and around Austin,” the statement concludes