AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, faith leaders and Austin officials met at Austin City Hall to rally against a proposition Austin voters will soon decide on. They say it would only punish the city’s homeless population, not help them.
The controversial proposition, Prop B, would reinstate Austin’s public camping ban: criminalizing and penalizing people for sitting or lying on public sidewalks and/or sleeping outdoors in and near downtown Austin and the University of Texas.
Complaints from advocates against the ordinance include the fact that Prop B doesn’t include any help for those experiencing homelessness, like housing assistance and health services.
In a letter of opposition, 75 faith leaders condemned Prop B, writing in part: “Prop B will not have any effect on the very things it purports to change: camping in public spaces, resting on sidewalks, or asking for money. These things all occurred before the 2019 repeal of these prohibitions and they will occur after.”
Prop B appeared on May 5 election ballots after the Save Austin Now group collected 20,000 signatures to bring the issue before voters. The group, now classified as a political action committee, attempted to do this back in 2020 — one year after Austin City Council voted to repeal the city’s ban on camping, sitting or lying in public spaces.
“As a pastor, I cannot find an ethical argument that would justify forcibly removing folks from their camps, knowing there is nowhere for them to go, knowing that many will end up in dangerous settings in the woods and in creek beds,” said Rev. John Elford, of University United Methodist Church.
The de-criminalizing decision was highly polarizing and would contribute to rising tensions over homeless camps in the city. The move even earned a threat of action from Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
“If Austin — or any other Texas city — permits camping on city streets it will be yet another local ordinance the State of Texas will override,” Abbott wrote in a statement.
The current ordinance dictates Austin police can only arrest or ticket someone who’s soliciting, camping, sitting, or lying in a public area if they present a public health or safety hazard or are blocking a walkway.
Rev. Crystal Silva-McCormick, one of the faith leaders who signed the opposition letter, said in part: “Surviving poverty is not a crime… Criminalizing our neighbors for surviving poverty is gravely immoral and fails to have a holy vision of what could be; namely, caring for the needs of our neighbors and addressing the injustices and cruelties that have forced them into poverty.”