AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tents were still up across most of Austin Tuesday morning as the city’s voter-approved camping ban went into effect. It could be weeks before any noticeable change. The City of Austin announced Monday a four-phase plan to enforce the new camping ban, which starts with 30 days of community engagement and education.
On May 1, voters approved Proposition B, which made sitting, lying or camping on public property a Class-C misdemeanor in addition to adding restrictions on panhandling.
“We have put together a plan that will include components of education and outreach — as well as enforcement — so that we are responsibly managing our public spaces,” Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said on Tuesday. “And meeting voters’ expectations.”
Here’s how the city describes the four phases of enforcement:
Effective Tuesday, May 11, a 33-day period of community engagement and education began. During this time, the Austin Police Department will provide verbal warnings to those found camping in addition to resource information. This excludes instances that are of imminent safety or health concern.
On Tuesday, Chacon elaborated on the kinds of sites that will be prioritized: areas where vulnerable populations like the elderly or the very young may be camping, areas prone to flooding or wildfires, and/or areas where criminal activity is reported.
Phase 1 will end June 12.
Phase 2 will be a 28-day period, starting June 10, during which APD will begin issuing written warnings and initial citations. Phase 2 will end July 12.
During Phase 3, starting July 10, APD may initiate arrests and/or begin clearing out encampments in areas that have not been cleared following citations. Chacon said arrests will be a last resort for officers, however.
In Tuesday’s briefing, it was explained that for those given citations they can’t pay, the City will be working to give them options in lieu of payment — including helping out with the program’s caseload.
All citations issued for violation of the new ordinance will be directed to the Downtown Austin Community Court, or DACC, where personnel evaluate each case and develop disposition plans that include connecting individuals to needed social services and/or assigning them to community service.
During Phase 4, citations and arrests will continue as needed. APD will work with City of Austin homeless outreach teams to help provide further information on resources, when available.
Ideally, the program will help those currently homeless to find permanent housing and employment, however, city leaders acknowledge criminal records and homelessness overall are huge barriers to these changes. Due to this, leaders will be working with landlords and businesses to help get people in the door.
When Phase 4’s four-week period comes to an end, it will be decided whether or not it should be extended.
Conservative Council Member criticizes enforcement rollout
While the City issued basic information on Monday, the timing is not satisfying some.
“I think it’s coming out too late,” Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly said of the plan during an event Monday. “My concern is, why didn’t we have a plan in place? We knew this was going to happen.”
People experiencing homelessness say so far there’s been no city guidance
Some people experiencing homelessness told KXAN Monday they felt left in the dark about the plan.
“I think people should know what’s going to happen tomorrow, like how crazy it’s going to be down here,” said Roger Roque, who’s been camping outside of City Hall.
“If they’re obviously in the middle of enforcing things, then it’s just shut your mouth and go,” said Michael Melchionda, who isn’t sure where he’ll move his tent.
However, Trisha English, who’s also experiencing homelessness, expects a lot of her friends to stay put until they’re forced to move.
“Some of them will stand their ground, and they will stay. This is not right,” English said.
The proposition reinstating the ban passed a little more than a week ago with 58% of Austinites voting for the ban and 42% voting against it.
Some are packing up to leave, but have nowhere to go
Monday, KXAN’s Candy Rodriguez stopped by several camps across the city from downtown under I-35 to Ben White Boulevard and East Riverside to East Cesar Chavez. Several people experiencing homelessness said they have no idea where they will go. One woman said it’s difficult to get around since having her stroke a couple of years ago.
“The ones who can provide, we would appreciate it. I would,” Teri Klima said “I want to have a little apartment and I’ll be satisfied.”
Klima has been living under I-35 near Seventh Street since the camping ban was lifted back in June of 2019.
Another man in east Austin said he ended up homeless when he got laid off around seven years ago. During that time, he has been staying with friends — bouncing from couch to couch when he can. If he doesn’t have a place to stay, Robert Hargrave says he’ll sleep on the streets.
“I don’t recommend this kind of life for anybody,” he said. “I think there are animals out there in this world that live better than this. Somebody in their 60s shouldn’t have to be doing this. It might be easier for somebody in their 20s or 30s, but not somebody my age. Maybe the good Lord will look down on me one of these days.”
Recently, Hargrave said a friend offered up garage space. He’ll be able to stay there through the summer. He hopes that’s enough time to get back on his feet or else he will end up back on the streets.