AUSTIN, Texas - Remember the citywide camping ban that was lifted in 2019? Well, that ban could be returning to specific areas, after an upcoming Thursday vote on the H.E.A.L. Initiative, which stands for Homeless Encampment Assistance Link.
"What we are trying to do is connect people who are currently staying in really unsafe locations, we are trying to connect them to housing and services so they get on the path to permanent housing and overtime eliminate the need to camp outside," said Ann Kitchen, Austin City Council District 5.
Kitchen, who is one of the sponsors, said this will be the first phase, and they plan to focus on four locations in particular. She said the exact campsites have not been identified, however, the proposed resolution describes the priority locations as:
- South Central at a major intersection or under an overpass
- Northwest Austin at an intersection adjacent to car and pedestrian traffic.
- Along a major arterial through the central business district, and
- East Austin on a sidewalk or public easement adjacent to or leading to a public library
"It's not safe for people to be living outside and we know there are some particularly unsafe and unhealthy places that people are staying and camping," said Kitchen.
In 2019, council repealed the city's camping ordinance.
This will reinstate that ordinance, just in four different areas. "Our social services and health providers will talk to people living in identified locations, work with them to connect them to housing, and meet their needs as they express those needs. After that process is complete, the city will tell us how we can make it clear that those areas are not allowed for camping," said Kitchen.
The plan is getting support from many, including council newcomer Mackenzie Kelly who ran on a platform or reinstating the camping ban. "I really look forward to seeing this pass and providing the city with a plan of action that we can be held accountable to," said Kelly.
But the proposal is not being welcomed by groups such as "D5 for black lives." They said on their webpage that the move will only recriminalize the homeless.
However, Kitchen expressed that that is not what this resolution is attempting to do. "It says let's connect them to housing and identify these areas that camping is not allowed., and let's have some stuff to tell us how to do that in a way that does not involve policing or citations," said Kitchen.
Council is expected to vote on the measure Thursday. Kitchen notes that if passed, this will only begin phase one of the resolution. More campsites could be added later in the process.