City delays release of approved Austin homeless encampments, citing too many restrictions

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Homeless Strategy Manager says the city needs to relax some of its restrictions on sanctioned homeless encampments if it hopes to find any city-owned land that could work as an approved homeless camp.

Dianna Grey sent a memo to the mayor and City Council on Tuesday, saying in part that Council added too many secondary restrictions at its May 18 meeting and that’s made it difficult to find suitable sites.

Under council’s criteria, factors like being too close to a school, lacking access to utilities or restricting citizen access to high-use public amenities or programming would be disqualifiers for any potential sites.

“Applying all of the Secondary Criteria articulated by Council Members at the May 18
presentation and thereafter severely limits the use of City-owned land as an option for
consideration,” Grey wrote in the memo.

“If Council modifies the Secondary Criteria to allow for some City-owned land options to be
considered for encampments, staff will continue our analysis of any identified properties and will build the framework for a community engagement process.”

That means on June 1 — exactly one month after Austin voters overwhelmingly chose to reinstate the city’s camping ban — Austin still has approved no location to tell those people experiencing homelessness where they can legally camp. And the city doesn’t have enough shelters to house them all.

Austin was supposed to release new list of sanctioned homeless sites Tuesday

City staff said they would release a narrower list of city-sanctioned homeless camping sites on Tuesday, but that has now changed in light of Grey’s memo. She asked for new guidance from Council by June 10 as well as how much money the Homeless Strategy Office will have to spend before city staff moves forward with potential locations.

The city released a first draft of 45 potential sites on May 18 with slightly more than half of those sites in east and southeast Austin. Officials called the release a “snapshot” after reviewing more than 70 sites initially.

Almost immediately, Council members started exploring alternative sites that weren’t on that initial list.

State camping ban cut list of proposed Austin homeless sites in half

Separately, at the State Capitol, lawmakers saw the City of Austin’s potential locations and then amended and passed a statewide camping ban bill to also prohibit cities from using parkland for permanent homeless camps.

At least 24 of the 45 locations the City of Austin released appear to be on parkland.

City warning people at homeless sites about ban — but no evictions yet

Even though city officials don’t yet know where to tell homeless people to legally camp, they have been to at least 42 current encampments to inform those there about the camping ban and a timetable for leaving.

This “education phase” of the ordinance is the first of a four-phase plan the city and the Austin Police Department instituted to help prepare people experiencing homelessness for their eventual eviction.

The first phase is supposed to end June 12. After that, those found in violation of the ordinance could be subject to written warnings and later potential fines. It’s unclear how the delay of city-sanctioned sites will impact the rollout of that four-phase plan.

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