No clear path to change camping rules on the day of council meeting

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin City Council members will talk through the night to decide the fate of homeless rules in Austin.

Since June the city has grappled with political blowback for allowing people to sit, lie, and camp in many public places. As of now, no changes seem to have the required six votes to pass the eleven person council, including the Mayor.

Sound familiar? It is.

Council is expected to vote on changes Thursday if there is enough support.

There are more proposals and continued debate on camping bans in many parts of town.

Four council members have signed on to a plan that would outlaw camping in the way of parking meters, benches, rights-of-way for highways and streets with heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic, rail tracks, creeks and river beds, and slopes under overpasses around town. Council members, Alter, Pool, Tovo support the plan laid out by Ann Kitchen.

“We also just need to be really clear with the community about where someone can camp and they can’t,” Kitchen said in an interview with KXAN previewing this week’s meeting. “We are expecting clarity, so what we’re proposing is that its clear areas that are not safe to camp.”

Sources and past statements set Council Members Casar, Garza, Flannigan, and Ellis as wanting to stay the course on most of what is now.

“I think there’s some agreement across the dais for providing additional clarity to the ordinance changes on things that I think we all generally agreed-upon anyway is if the language is a little unclear we can provide some clarity on that,” Councilman Jimmy Flannigan said. “Where there is much broader disagreement to the right is how directive and how specific should we be from the dais.”

Then there’s the search for a middle, with Mayor Adler laying out a proposal that bans camping on sidewalks and near doorways of businesses and residences. Councilman Renteria backs that; Harper-Madison does as well but with slight changes.

Councilwoman Delia Garza proposing amendments to Adler’s ordinance that would only restrict camping around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) but not sitting and lying unless it obstructs the area for pedestrians. Garza’s amendments also scale back on camping near businesses’ doorways to only prohibiting the activity during business hours.

Flannigan believes the changes should be left up to the experts.

“If we start being so specific that will distract the staff from their work they need to be doing in order to solve these temporary solutions we will have both missed the opportunity to serve long-term problems and wasted a ton of money in the process, and we don’t want to do that,” he said.

Kitchen posted the differences between her plan and Mayor Adler’s plan on the city council online forum.

“It’s our role to protect public health and safety and it’s just time that we do that,” Kitchen said. “It’s time for us to act and refocus our community, move past the divisiveness that this has caused and refocus our community on our shared goals which is connecting people to housing.”

Mayor Adler said a return to a full camping ban is unlikely.

“No longer making them live in dark, quiet, remote places, I for one can’t send them back. We should be helping those people not hiding them,” Mayor Adler said.

The thing is, you need the voting majority to make any changes. Right now – no one has the votes.

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