City of Austin begins Phase 3 of camping ban enforcement

The City of Austin is halfway through its four-phased plan to reinstate its homeless camping ban. Phase 3 begins Sunday.

For the past two months, the city has been implementing phase one and two of its plan to reinstate the citywide camping ban.

"The emphasis has really been on outreach, on education, on talking to individuals making sure they know that those areas will no longer be open to camping and that they need to find other places to go," said Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council Member for District 9.

However, Tovo says there's a problem. "We have a fundamental problem at the heart of this, and that is we don't have places to suggest people go."

Tovo represents District 9, the district with the highest number of people experiencing homelessness. As Austin moves into Phase 3, she says there's still no viable answer as to where they expect these people living on the streets to go.

Currently, Tovo says Austin's only designated camping ground, Camp Esperanza, is at capacity. The city's downtown shelters are also at capacity.

"People have contacted me directly to ask for alternative places to be and certainly they're asking those officers and social service providers: where can I go camp? Where can I be? Frankly, as a community, we don't have answers for them. We don't have enough places for them to go," she said.

Tovo says the city has two hotels being used as bridge shelters for the homeless. As vaccines increase, she hopes some shelters will be able to open their doors to more people.

For now, Phase 3 will give APD the power to continue passing out written warnings to those who have not moved and in some cases hand out citations or even arrest.

"We expect our police officers to carry the brunt of the work. However, they can only do so much when they don't actually have places for the homeless to go and it's not fair to make the police officers write citations or arrest without having viable options for our homeless community," said Cleo Petricek with Save Austin Now.

Save Austin Now is the group which spearheaded the campaign to reinstate Austin's camping ban. Petricek says the city needs to take more initiative to help these people expected to be off the streets by the end of the summer.

"We need the city council to treat this like a like the crisis that it is. We do need the city to do more than just giving us more empty promises. It is time to find safe places for homeless to go," she said.

Phase 3 will run until August 8th. After that, Phase 4 will pick up. For more information on the city’s phased plan, click here.

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