Austin Public Safety Commission recommends stop to camping ban citations

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A majority of the Austin Public Safety Commission voted to recommend Austin police stop ticketing and arresting people for sit/lie and public camping ban violations unless there are housing options for those on the street. These could be hotels or sanctioned encampments.

Several commissioners argued there’s still a huge gap between available housing and people who need it. That’s despite a City Council initiative to clean up four high-profile encampments and move those people into a hotel, a job that’s half done at this point.

“A majority of the commission feels that it is an unfair and unjust thing to do to our unhoused neighbors to issue them citations when they have no other places to go,” said Rebecca Gonzales.

On Aug. 8, the final phase of the public camping ban, which voters agreed to reinstate in May’s election, will begin. That means police can make arrests if individuals aren’t complying and they’ve already been cited. According to municipal court data obtained by KXAN, APD has given out 18 tickets for violating the ban.

Monday’s 7-1 vote is simply a recommendation that would have to be approved by City Council. Commissioners noted that city staff would have to determine the legality of halting tickets and arrests.

Devin Romero, a cashier at Royal Blue Grocery Downtown, said not much has changed outside the store since the city started phasing in the camping ban again.

“We’ve had some people come through and say they don’t know where to go, they just get bothered,” said Romero. “They just get told they can’t be somewhere so they go somewhere else.”

He added he’s not sure there’s a point to citations, as long as there’s no place for people experiencing homelessness to go.

“The threat of the citation doesn’t change anything,” said Romero. “It just makes people hide or get more crafty with how they’re going to be.”

Public Safety Commissioners are also asking the city to provide more than $1.2 million for 500 people to be moved into temporary housing for the next month.

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