City of Austin not recommending 'sanctioned' sites for homeless camping

David Kruger's family has owned Kruger's Diamond Jewelers in downtown Austin for 80 years.  

Kruger says the City Council legalizing camping, sitting and lying hasn't had a positive effect on the homeless or the community at large.

"It's kind of enabled them to do whatever they want to do because they know the police aren't going to get involved," Kruger said.  

Even though the covered space right in front of his door is private property, some don't understand that.

"I'm surprised the City hasn't asked me to start paying a hotel tax because...there was one guy right in front of the front door this morning and sometimes there's up to four people," Kruger said.  

Kruger says he just asks those folks to clean up after themselves.

"'Aren't you upset about that? Don't you want the police to do something?' No, not really because everybody has to be somewhere,” Kruger said. “And this is the unfortunate place these people ended up being.”

Speaking of "everybody has to be somewhere," in June when council passed those changes to the homeless ordinances, they also passed a resolution asking the City Manager's office to come up with some limitations on when and where people can camp.

Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance says they're a part of that conversation.

"We know that where sidewalks are very densely populated particularly during high peaks of time, lunch hour, evening times, entertainment district peak hours, it's not really reasonable having people camping, sitting and lying on our sidewalks," Brice said.

The City Manager's office along with the Homeless Strategy Office sent out a memo saying the camping limitations Council asked for will likely focus on areas with high pedestrian and automobile traffic along with floodways.

Mayor Adler says the memo is a good start.

"We need to broaden that list but as part of an agreement in this community that we make with ourselves that we're going to be able to identify more and more places where people can't camp, sit down or lie as we identify more and more places where people can be, as we identify more housing," Adler said.  

Council had also asked the City Manager to provide at least ten locations, one in each council district that would allow camping.  

According to the memo, City staff is "respectfully" not bringing forth those recommendations because creating authorized camping is costly, has little impact on reducing homelessness and they say "temporary" camps are hard to close once they're opened.

Mayor Adler agrees.

"There are better answers, safer places, better places for people to be than in a sanctioned camping area,” Adler said. “We should be trying to get people into shelters or bridge homes, or navigation centers.”

Brice says the memo emphasizes the need to have an actionable plan in place and it calls out some of the pitfalls of the changes that have been made.

"For example, changing the ordinances without a lot of forethought as far as having the places identified in advance of where people can be has resulted in concerns around the community," Brice said.

On Wednesday morning the Downtown Austin Alliance is holding a town hall at the Convention Center all about the issue with Mayor Adler, Council Members Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo.
They say more than 900 people have RSVP'd and there's still room. To RSVP, visit the event page.