AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city leaders briefed downtown business owners and other stakeholders Monday afternoon about how the city will implement its reinstated camping ban.
The Downtown Austin Alliance hosted a virtual panel with City Manager Spencer Cronk, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon and Municipal Court Administrator Peter Valdez.
The educational panel came just hours after Black community leaders held a news conference, condemning the city’s preliminary list of potential homeless encampment sites. Last week, the city released the list, saying several of the city-owned properties on it could be used as places to gather homeless people who are moved away from where they’re currently camping.
Black community leaders like Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion took issue with around half of the listed properties being in predominately Black and brown neighborhoods.
They said not enough research was done, because many of the properties on the list aren’t within reasonable distance of the resources people experiencing homelessness would need, and many, they said, are in food deserts.
President of Baptist Ministers Union of Austin Reverend Daryl Horton said the list of city-owned properties currently being considered by city staff includes, “places that may be worse off than they already are.”
“This city has been sweeping all its unwanted people and things to the eastside,” Harper-Madison said.
Harper-Madison argues it’s inequitable to place the homeless in predominately Black and brown neighborhoods already struggling.
“Even if three quarters of these places aren’t accessible, aren’t a possibility for use, you’ve already published a map, a visual aid that frightens people,” Harper-Madison said.
In the Downtown Austin Alliance forum, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk admitted costs could get in the way of equally distributing designated encampments in all council districts.
“The original resolution that was passed by our city council did include direction to have at least one option in every district,” Cronk said.
He went on to say, “there’s a cost in managing each of these sites, and so knowing that, there may be resource constraints that will influence how many we’re actually able to set up and manage.”
Cronk said city staff is working on narrowing down options for sanctioned encampment sites from the list as it is now and will provide an update June 1.
In the meantime, police are giving campers a move out date of Aug. 8.