Austin City Council makes changes to camping ordinances

On Thursday, the Austin City Council was tasked with finally clarifying the changes they made to ordinances back in June — changes that legalized camping, sitting and lying in most public places. 

The proposal they ended up voting for bans camping on all city sidewalks or in wildfire risk areas.

It also prohibits camping, sitting or lying within 15 feet of a door jamb or anywhere immediately surrounding the ARCH. People will still be able to sit or lie on sidewalks as long as they are 15 feet away from the entrance of a business or residence. 

The vote was 6-4 with Councilmembers Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Allison Alter voting against because they say the changes don’t go far enough.

The loosening of those rules led to a public outcry. The last time the Council tried to clarify the changes was in a September meeting. Discussions fell apart, and nothing was decided on. On Thursday, Council started with several different viewpoints of what should be done. 

Kitchen’s list of clarifications includes restrictions on storm drains, rivers, underpass medians and more. Mayor Steve Adler’s proposal is basically a simplified version. Something he and Kitchen agreed on was a camping ban on all city sidewalks.  

Mayor Pro-Tem Garza wanted to change the word “camp” to “erecting a tent or other structure for shelter” on a sidewalk. Before Council started working through those differences of opinion, they heard from about 50 different speakers.“

“If you all want to ban camping on sidewalks, is that better than where we are today? Sure,” said Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak. "You want to ban it under underpasses, is that better than where we are today? Sure. The simple and best thing to do to rebuild trust with our community, to rebuild trust with the residents is for you all to admit you made a mistake."

“Obviously I don’t support any new restrictions based on what you’ve done. If something must be done I hope it’s the least restrictive thing that you can do and that future conversations about homelessness in this building are focused purely on how do we house people,” said criminal justice advocate Chris Harris.

“I want to personally thank Governor Abbott for listening to the pleas of these citizens because you ignore them: Ann Kitchen, look at me! I’m in your district and you know I was attacked under the bridge! You don’t care! You do not care about the citizens your arrogance is disgusting! You disgust me,” one speaker said.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves. All of you — who speak about individuals and human beings as though they are objects to be cleaned up off the streets and you speak about how difficult your life is as if your singular existence is the one defining standard by which success or failure should be measured. It’s abhorrent,” another speaker said.