AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new state law banning people experiencing homelessness from camping anywhere in public goes into effect on Wednesday — and while it seems pretty straightforward, the changes it could make in the city of Austin are less so.
The new law will require cities to enforce a ban on camping, either the one set forward by the state or a local ban just as strict or stricter. It also says anyone camping illegally in public could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500.
Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak told KXAN Tuesday he’s disappointed with how the city has implemented the local camping ban his group fought for.
“Given that we’re now more than four months past the May 1 election, I did think we’d be further along,” Mackowiak said. “We did want to give them a chance to get into the fourth phase of the four phase enforcement timeline.”
However, Save Austin Now recently announced it’s suing the city for lack of enforcement.
Mackowiak doesn’t believe the city will be in compliance with the state’s new law once it goes into effect, even though Austin does have a ban on camping in place.
“Once they are not in compliance, the state may have some options in terms of fines, in terms of legal action, in terms of other things,” Mackowiak said, although he indicated he doesn’t have much clarity on how the state will evaluate the city’s compliance.
A city of Austin spokesperson told KXAN in a statement Tuesday, “The City of Austin is in compliance with state law. As with the local ordinance, APD officers will enforce the state law through citations and, in some cases, arrest.
“APD officers will also attempt to obtain voluntary compliance whenever possible, including by making efforts to connect people to resources.”
“I don’t think the average person will be noticing that much of a difference in how this is going to be enforced,” said Nick Thompson, Statewide Initiatives Manager for Texas Homeless Network.
Thompson says people on the streets still have to go somewhere, and getting them into housing won’t happen overnight.
That’s the type of effort the city of Austin wants to highlight. On Tuesday, the city’s HEAL initiative offered those living under an underpass at U.S. Highway 183 and Oak Knoll Boulevard rooms at one of Austin’s bridge shelters.
“We want to get these folks into transitional housing, get them connected to case management, and ultimately get them into their own place,” said Greg McCormack with the city’s Homeless Strategy division.
The city says 23 people took that offer Tuesday and are moving in.
Meanwhile, in April, a coalition of homeless advocates and city leaders announced a goal to house 3,000 people in three years. By the end of August, the goal was to house 200 people. However, no one from the coalition could tell KXAN whether that goal had been met as of Tuesday, because the numbers of people who’ve been put into housing most recently are still being counted. The group did, however, miss its goal of housing 100 people by June.