Austin City Council attempts to clarify changes to homeless ordinances

Since the Austin City Council legalized camping, sitting and lying in most public places this summer, we've seen growing camps, complete with tents, furniture, a lifeguard stand, gas grill -- now, a hammock tied up in entertainment district landscaping. "Even though some people thought it was funny, a lot of people that are in town for ACL and here for conventions did not think it was funny," said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.  

Casaday posted the snapshot on social media over the weekend.  He says an officer sent it to him, but he later encountered the setup himself. "People would come up and make comments to us: 'How does the City allow this?  Why don't y'all do anything about it?'  But it's not violating the ordinances the way they are set up right now so he was well within his rights to do that," Casaday said.  

This Thursday, Council Members Ann Kitchen, Kathie Tovo, Alison Alter and Leslie Pool are proposing some ordinance clarifications.

"People have legitimate concerns about public health and safety and it's important to clarify what we did in June," Kitchen said.  

Council Member Kitchen says their plan details where camping would not be allowed.

"Places like sidewalks, places like intersections, the sloped areas under overpasses, along creeks, river beds," she said. 

Also storm drains, busy downtown roadways, traffic medians, as well as near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless or ARCH. "We are not going back to a system and we are not proposing we go back to a system where the main option that police officers have at their disposal is to ticket people who are camping in areas that are prohibited," said Council Member Tovo.

The plan lays out a step-by-step process law enforcement will go through that includes first notifying the person about the violation, giving them a chance to comply and contacting a member of the Homeless Outreach Street Team.  All before issuing a citation.

The council members are also proposing an Encampment Response Strategy.  Kitchen describes it as a targeted way to connect people to housing.

"What it means is we identify folks by name that are staying in priority encampment areas and then we focus social services on working with those people immediately," Kitchen said. Casaday says the proposed changes are a step in the right direction.

"City Council can fix it on Thursday.  And if they don't repair this and get it back to the way it was, then we'll be in full support of the Governor bringing in DPS Troopers or the National Guard or whatever he needs to do to maintain order in this city," Casaday said.  

Speaking of Governor (and Austin resident) Greg Abbott, he tweeted about Austin's homeless crisis again on Monday morning saying in part "Dallas has more homeless people than Austin but is able to retain public health & safety.  Austin's problem isn't the homeless; it's lack of leadership."

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has an item on the agenda Thursday that directs the City Manager to work with City departments on coming up with restrictions. Meanwhile, Council Member Paige Ellis sent out a press release, urging the City Manager to present a plan by Tuesday's work session, along with metrics and timelines.



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