AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local group, Save Austin Now, is seeking 20,000 signatures to hand over to the city by Monday, July 20, in an effort to reinstate the ban on homeless camping in Austin.
If the signatures are verified by the city, the group will find out by mid-August if the proposal will be on the November ballot.
Outlined in the group’s three page petition, they are calling for improved public health and safety on the streets of Austin.
“The purpose of this ordinance is to restore generally the provisions of the Austin City Code that were in effect on June 19, 2019 prior to the City Council’s action, expand the area in which solicitation is prohibited during the evening and nighttime hours, and modify the boundaries of the geographic area to which the ordinance applies to encompass the area that contains the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and areas where many students at the university and through which they must move to travel to and from the campus. This will return to the effective system of management and control of the city which these provisions promoted and secured.”
– Save Austin Now
Some business owners in downtown Austin tell KXAN they continue to deal with issues involving people living on the streets.
“We have a lot of issues with homelessness. They are camping on our front stoop, they’ll set up overnight, they’ll leave messes sometimes even feces or urine,” said Caleb Zammit, owner of Texas Toy Museum.
That’s one of the reasons Save Austin Now says it crafted the petition, to help homeowners and business owners adversely affected by the homeless population. The group says the camping ban would also help individuals without shelter by getting them out of tents and public, outdoor spaces and into permanent housing.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to focus our city’s leadership on shelters and housing for the homeless and not asking them to put a tent on the sidewalk in 95 degree heat or under a highway,” said Matt Mackowiak, of Save Austin Now.
Last summer, community advocates worked to help change the city’s homeless ordinance. They say the proposed camping ban criminalizes homelessness and harms a vulnerable population.
“By giving people tickets and warrants and cycling them through the criminal justice system when they can’t afford to pay for these tickets, only sets folks back further,” said Chris Harris of Homes Not Handcuffs.
Harris wants the city to invest resources in more permanent and supportive housing and social services, especially after COVID-19’s impact on the housing market and the economy.
“We are on the verge of a national eviction crisis and to even consider further penalizing people who are forced out of their home because of an economic situation caused by this global pandemic at no fault of their own, is unconscionable,” Harris said.
According to a 2020 Point-In-Time Count by ECHO, the unsheltered population has increased since 2018.
Almost 1,600 people are living outside, in tents or in their cars and 932 are in shelters.
Last fiscal year, the city allocated about $63 million to help address homeless issues. This year that number is about $60 million.
“We are making significant investments in not only homeless services but social services generally and we know that there is more we need to do,” said Spencer Cronk, Austin’s City Manager.