AUSTIN, Texas - A row of tents stand across the street from the Arch, both bordering and covering the sidewalk.
Since the camping ordinances in Austin changed in June, people have been able to set up camp in public spaces as long they aren't walkways.
The changes to the camp, sit, or lie ordinances have caused an uproar. Advocacy groups for the homeless argue that the rules in the past criminalized homeless people.
Other groups like Save Austin Now say the tents popping up around town on medians and sidewalks pose a safety and health risk.
Matt Mackowiak a co-founder of Save Austin Now established an online petition that has gathered more than 30,000 signatures. He said council’s special called meeting didn’t accomplish anything. "They don't know what to do, they've made a horrendous mistake, they can't admit it," Mackowiak said. "Their goal is to decriminalize homeless existence and I don't think that's necessarily a bad idea except the way that they've carried that out has made our city less safe."
Cities in similar circumstances are teaming up. The International Downtown Alliance has petitioned the Supreme Court to do away with the camping ordinances.
The Downtown Austin Alliance has shown support stating in part: "We in Austin are seeing firsthand what happens when people are permitted to languish in camps...True compassion and empathy do not involve letting anyone harm themselves or the public, and these documents should be taken as a serious warning to our civic leaders..." said Dewitt Peart, the president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance
Mayor Steve Adler said he sent out a Memo stating the ordinances needed clarification. Austin Police can enforce the laws and ordinances.
“It is against the law for people, for example, to urinate or defecate in public or aggressively confront another,” the memo read. “Our residents should be encouraged to call 911 when they see laws being violated...." Adler wrote.
He also addressed impeding walkways and providing at least four feet of clearances on sidewalks and from entrances surrounding businesses.
"All of the ordinances that we have that protected us with public safety risks and public health hazards have remained enforced we've done nothing to weekend those ordinances so I expect us to enforce our laws and ensure public safety and public health in our city," Mayor Adler said.
In the meantime, Mayor Adler is looking at the City Manager to come up with an encampment strategy to assist areas like the communities building outside the Arch.