Austin council expected to vote to specify areas where people can’t camp in public


Austin (KXAN) — Austin City Council is expected to vote Thursday on specifying areas where people cannot camp, sit and lie down in public areas. It will begin its discussion around 3 p.m. This is part of some possible adjustments the council is considering for the ordinances council passed in June.

Austin’s council rolled back its camping ban in June with the aim of decriminalizing homelessness. The changes allow individuals to camp, sit and lie down in most public places across the city.

The changes have also sparked heated public debate as well as threats from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to return to the original camping ban.

While council members will be weighing several possible options for putting restrictions in place, it is unclear which of these options has the most support or if the 11-person council can come to an agreement.

The first plan was proposed by Council Member Ann Kitchen and supported by Council Members Alison Alter, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo. Their proposal would outlaw camping in the way of parking meters, benches, rights-of-way for highways and streets with heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic, rail tracks, creeks and river beds and slopes under overpasses around town. Kitchen’s plan has been amended to be more similar to Mayor Adler’s plan, the amended version would prohibit camping within five feet of a doorway.

Mayor Steve Adler has also floated a proposal that bans camping on sidewalks as well as within five feet of a doorway (during business hours). Council Member Pio Renteria backs Adler’s version; Harper-Madison does as well but with slight changes.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza has proposed amendments to Adler’s ordinance that would only restrict camping around the homeless shelters, but sitting and lying around those shelters would be allowed under her version so long as it does not block pedestrian walkways. Garza’s amendments also scale back on camping near businesses’ doorways to only prohibit that activity during business hours.

In a previous interview this week with KXAN, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he expects the council to adopt a proposal. However, he does not anticipate the council will go back to the previous ban on camping, sitting, and lying down in public places which was in place prior to the June vote.

“No longer making them live in dark, quiet, remote places, I for one can’t send them back. We should be helping those people, not hiding them,” Mayor Adler said.

At council Thursday, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley explained to council that his recommendation still is to have the camping ban reinstated, but that if that does not happen he recommends banning camping, sitting and lying down on all sidewalks be banned.

Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance told the council that his organization neither supports or opposes their proposals today, as each have components that DAA supports and doesn’t support. He asked the council to consider a ban on sitting and lying down in front of businesses.

Chris Harris, who works with Just Liberty and also serves as an Austin Public Safety Commissioner, told the council he hopes they do not place any new restrictions on camping, sitting, and lying down in public places.

“What we really need to be doing is to stop talking about these ordinances and pivoting to housing,” he said.

As of 6:30 p.m., the council had not yet reached a decision on which ordinance change they would support.

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