390 warnings issued as Austin police begin enforcing next phase of homeless camping ban

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police said they issued 390 warnings during the first phase of implementing the voter-approved homeless camping ban in Austin, and now officers will move to writing tickets against those in violation.

During a news conference Tuesday morning, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said officers spoke to 400 people in 70 camp sites across the city. This happened during the 30-day period following May 11 when the city began to put Proposition B into effect.

Chacon talked about what steps the city is taking next alongside City Manager Spencer Cronk and Dianna Grey, the city’s homeless strategy officer.

The City of Austin announced Phase 2 of the four-tiered public camping ban went into effect Sunday, meaning repeat offenders of the ban may soon be issued citations. People violating the ban on public camping will first receive written warnings. Police may issue a citation to those already warned.

“They receive a copy of it and we take a copy of it which gets entered into our system,” Chacon said of the warning process. “The system is searchable by our officers to be able to tell when they run the individual’s name where they were and what they received a warning for. That is what we are using to track whether someone has been previously warned or not.”

Homeless advocates worry this new warning system will lead to people repeatedly moving from camp to camp, avoiding the risk of being cited. They say that makes building relationships and connecting them to long term solutions harder.

However, City Manager Spencer Cronk said APD’s HOST team will still be on-foot, building trust.

“It’s critical that we continue those outreach efforts. The Chief said that will not be changing as we move to phase two and phase three,” Cronk said.

Chacon explained this second phase, which lasts until July 12, will also include more education and outreach to those experiencing homelessness as well as asking them to reduce the size of their camp sites.

“At this point we’re strongly urging individuals that are in these camp sites to downsize their area to right size for movement and mobility, as the cleanup of the camp sites continue,” Chacon said.

On Monday morning, city crews and police began working to clear out homeless encampments around Austin City Hall due to “upcoming construction.”

The city stated people camping around City Hall near the intersection of Guadalupe and Cesar Chavez were told about the construction “within the last 30 days” by members of the Homeless Outreach Street Team and Austin Police Department representatives. The city also shared those with tents on the north side of City Hall are trespassing and have to move immediately or face fines or being arrested. 

Chacon said police arrested seven people at City Hall during this cleanup process Monday.

Prop B was approved by Austin voters on May 1 making it a criminal offense — a Class-C misdemeanor punishable by a fine — if you sit, lie down, or camp on public property in downtown Austin or on the University of Texas-Austin campus. It also prohibits panhandling at specific hours and locations.

Chacon said police passed out pamphlets with a list of resources during their initial round of conversations with those living at the city’s various homeless camp sites. However, that list did not include a specific location for where people could go next.

Grey told reporters Tuesday that city staffers are still working to identify which city-owned pieces of property may serve as sanctioned camp sites. However, she suggested homeless shelters provided by the ARCH and the Salvation Army may soon expand capacity, which had been reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. That could help some people temporarily, as they have to relocate during implementation of the camping ban.

Austin City Council will work through its six-week recess to have a memo ready about city-sanctioned encampments before August. The city is also talking with leadership at existing shelters, like the ARCH and the Salvation Army, which has been limited during the pandemic.

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