How Austin's homeless population has changed since state camping ban

It's been more than two years since Texas passed a law banning camping targeted at homeless people. 

Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 1925 in 2021.

It makes encampments in public areas unlawful and could cost a person up to $500 in fines.

Since then, the Downtown Austin Alliance said it's seen a change in the number of homeless people.

"The number is down significantly from what it was back then," said Bill Brice, the senior vice president of investor relations for the Downtown Austin Alliance.

The Alliance said in May 2021, it estimated about 800 people were living unsheltered in downtown Austin's public improvement district.

In the fall, the Alliance said the numbers dropped after the city reinstated its camping ban and the state made it illegal. 

At the same time, the Heal Initiative launched, which helps homeless people find shelter and housing.

"That really helps put a dent in the number early on," said Brice.

Since then, the alliance said the numbers have stayed in the five hundreds. 

One resident on Sixth Street, Rick Baltran, said he hasn’t seen the homeless population fluctuate on his street in the last two years.

"I don't think there's been much of a difference," said Baltran.

Over the summer, the number of people living unsheltered started to increase again.


An Austin resident of almost 20 years said he's noticed more homeless people in some areas. 

He asked to remain anonymous.

"I feel like around city hall and Cesar Chavez kind of cleaned up some, but more recently you kind of are seeing people sleep on the sidewalks and benches, kind of more common over the past couple of months." 

Over a three-month period, the Alliance said it saw about 100 more people displaced.

"We did see a 25 percent increase in the number of people living unsheltered between the May 2023 count and the end of July count," said Brice.

As of September 2023, the Alliance said 584 people in downtown need shelter, but open beds are hard to come by.

"There's not been a significant increase in the overall number of shelter beds in many years," said Brice. "Also, in the number of housing units that don't really come online fast enough to address the increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness city and county-wide."

Back in March, the city lost about 100 beds when the Salvation Army's downtown shelter closed.

The alliance said it expects the facility to re-open next month with 150 beds.

The marshaling yard is looking at adding 100 beds after its first 200 filled up in under a month in August.

Plus, the city also freed up 130 beds in August at city-owned hotel and motel rooms.