Austin’s homeless camping ban could be back on May 2021 ballot

Where E. Cesar Chavez meets S. 1st Street in downtown Austin, tents line the sidewalk, making up one of multiple homeless encampments around Austin.

Just across that intersection, a group of people gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to fight on the homeless’ behalf. "There’s an effort to criminalize people for being homeless in our community," said Chris Harris with "Homes Not Handcuffs."  "If it bothers you that there are people experiencing homelessness in this community, there is an answer and that is housing."

Harris and other members of the group gathered for a speaking event to push back on efforts by "Save Austin Now" to ban homeless camping. Members of "Homes Not Handcuffs" said funding should go towards housing and other resources when it comes to the homeless issue, not policing and jails.

"We see an issue in our society or a social ill and our instinct is to say, ‘Let the police handle it,’" said Harris. "People who end up homeless through no fault of their own because of the economy weakening from the pandemic should not be ticketed or put in jail simply because of that - that’s wrong."

Just hours later at City Hall, members of "Save Austin Now" turned in over 27,000 signed petitions, hoping to reinstate Austin’s homeless camping ban by getting it on the May 2021 ballot. The first effort to reinstate the ban was ruled invalid back in August, and they decided to try again starting December 1.


"It wasn’t an easy choice for us to say, ‘Let’s start from zero and do it over again,’ but we couldn't sit back and watch this continue, said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of "Save Austin Now. "We’re absolutely thrilled that today we can announce that we collected more than 30,000 signed petitions - an extraordinary accomplishment for 50 days especially when you have COVID-19 [and all the holidays] going on." 

Of the 30,000 signed petitions they received, Mackowiak estimated they turned in about 27,000 to the city clerk, due to some petitions being thrown out because of ineligibility or other issues.

Members of "Save Austin Now" believe that allowing the homeless to camp almost anywhere has resulted in serious consequences - for both the community and the homeless themselves.

They also believe there are already alternatives that exist.

"There are still shelters that are open, and the campground is half full," said Cleo Petricek. "There are places for them to go but living in the streets where it’s not safe for them and not safe for the community - it’s not helpful for anybody." 

RELATED: Abbott working to override Austin homeless camping ordinance


Now, the matter is in the hands of the city, and the signature validation process could take several weeks. The city has a Feb. 12 deadline to approve any ballot language for the May ballot.

"There are better places for them to be, and we also want the city to be accountable for the $160 million they’ve been allocated the last 3 fiscal years," said Mackowiak. "Why is there virtually no new homeless housing?"