AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Austin Mayor Steve Adler and members of the Austin City Council say solving homelessness is the top priority. Item 185 on this week's agenda: Council Member Greg Casar is proposing narrowing the focus of the City's rules related to camping, sitting and lying down...basically making it perfectly legal unless someone is putting themselves or others in danger.
The City's restrictions on panhandling could be morphed into an ”aggressive confrontation” ordinance, protecting the first amendment right to ask for money. "So what I suggested was not focusing on the speech, what they're saying because that's really never been the issue. It's the aggressiveness that's always been the issue," Adler said.
Mayor Adler says aggressive behavior will still be illegal.
Public safety and public health will still be safeguarded.
The Downtown Austin Alliance has major concerns about this.
CEO Dewitt Peart says after numerous meetings with City leaders over the past several weeks, the panhandling portion of what's being discussed is headed in the right direction. Except for a part that references "intent to cause fear and intimidation." "If someone's fearful for their health or safety, intent should not come into the question. So we disagree on that," Peart said.
The DAA is wondering: what's the rush to get these changes passed?
"There was no community engagement on this. So they went right to ordinance. We have boards and commissions that generally deal with these types of issues and none of that went through a process and we're saying that's not the way you craft policy," Peart said.
Peart says they also have disagreements about the camping and sit-lie changes. "There has to be some limitations to where people are permitted to camp or not camp," Peart said.
A solution to that, could be on the way. Item 184 on Council's agenda is a resolution that directs the City Manager to look into a laundry list of options for dealing with what the Mayor calls "non-threatening unhoused living challenges" -- for example identifying where camping would and would not be allowed.
"Let's give people a safe place to be. And if they have a safe place to be there's no reason for them to be camping or sitting and lying," Peart said.
The resolution also calls for finding temporary shelter locations, parking for those who sleep in cars, even storage lockers for the homeless. "We're saying -- 185: no solutions. How could we support that? 184: there's a host of solutions. We absolutely support that," Peart said.
Thursday's discussion on the ordinances is expected to happen after 6 pm.