Austin’s public camping ban to be reinstated after voters approve Proposition B

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austinites passed a measure Saturday that would largely affect the city’s homeless population.

Proposition B is a reinstatement of Austin’s public camping ban. It penalizes those who camp near downtown and The University of Texas. It also affects camping in a public area not designated by the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.  

59% of voters were in support of the measure with 79% of the votes in.

See election results below:

In addition to the camping ban, the proposition would make it a crime to ask for money in certain areas and times “or for solicitation in a public area that is deemed aggressive in manner.” The ballot language was amended back on March 2 after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision to delete a repeated word.

The organizers at Save Austin Now gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot on their second attempt.

“We are going to take this city back,” said Matt Mackowiak, Co-Founder of Save Austin Now. “This is not about right wing or left wing, this is about standard of living, this is about making Austin a place where you can live, work and raise a family in.”

In 2019, Austin City Council voted to repeal previous city bans on camping, sitting and lying in public spaces. Save Austin Now aimed to reverse the council’s act to decriminalize homelessness. And, it’s not the only effort: back in January, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that if the city doesn’t reinstate the ban on homeless camping, the state will do it for them. The Texas Senate Local Government Committee met in April to consider a bill that would establish a statewide ban on public camping.  

In a recent video message posted on Twitter, Save Austin Now says the city has become less safe with fires spreading from camps.  

Groups like Ending Community Homelessness Coalition opposed this proposition. According to a full statement on their website, the organization cited disproportionate jail rates as a reason to vote no. Its statement went on to say that creating these offenses will “disproportionately impact unhoused Black people, potentially resulting in increased rates of incarceration.”

On social media, the group has received support from ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s. In a Twitter post, the company said, “We’ll never police our way out of the homelessness crisis, and Prop B would take Austin backwards. Vote NO!” 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who also opposed the return of the camping ban, said the two sides of the vote have more in common than people think.

“I think the whole election and the campaign really pointed out that this community wants people out of tents and I think people on both sides of the yes and no are agreeing on that,” Adler said Saturday night. “I think this election really manifests the community desire to do that, and get people in better and safer places.”

While EHCO has received social media attention, Save Austin Now has an edge in financial support. According to the latest Save Austin Now PAC filings, the group has raised $1.25 million. For perspective, the PAC Mobility for All, which pushed for Austin’s multi-billion dollar transit initiative known as Project Connect, raised $1.3 million last year.

The Homes Not Handcuffs PAC, whose donors include Adler, was against Prop B and the camping ban. According to financial filings, the PAC raised more than $173,000, as of April 21.

The ban will not officially take effect until the day the election results are canvassed, which is expected on May 11th.

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