Mayor proposes possible locations to restrict camping, sitting, lying

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is proposing some ideas to solve the city's homeless crisis and place restrictions on camping in the city. This comes after public outcry regarding City Council's decision to loosen the camping ordinance back in June. 

An online petition asking council to reinstate the restrictions was signed by more than 25,000 people.

Camping is already prohibited in public parks, on private property, at libraries, City Hall, the Governor's Mansion, the Capitol and bus stops. Also, any camps presenting a public safety risk, health hazard or blocking the public right of way are not allowed in city limits. 

Congress Avenue, 2nd Street, 6th Street and The Drag are all high-foot traffic areas for those who live in, work in and visit Austin. Since June, they are all also fair game for those sleeping on the streets to set up camp. 

“There are safer and better places for people to be than others,” Adler said.  

Those streets, along with other areas like those near schools, child care facilities and shelters, like the ARCH, are not good locations for the homeless community to pitch a tent according to Adler. 

“I think we're going to have to do something about the area outside the ARCH, because it's not safe. It's not safe for the people who are there sleeping and lying, it's not safe for the people that are trying to get through that in order to get to the facilities at the ARCH,” said Adler.  

Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps, the nonprofit that runs the ARCH, said he's seen an increase in the number of people living outside since the city relaxed the camping ordinance. Still only about 20 percent of those staying around the building are accessing services inside and McCormack said it's getting more difficult to get people in the door because of the mess. 

“I think we prevent that with housing folks in low-barrier housing with access to the right type of services so they can begin to work towards the self-sufficiency they desire outside of needing a spot on the sidewalk to camp,” said Matt Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.  

“We shouldn’t have people camping anywhere in this city, but we're not going to get there until we have a place for people to be,” Adler said. "So, as a community, we need to make a social compact that says we're going to find more and more places, better places, for these folks to be."

The mayor would like to see multiple types of housing available to the homeless population, including emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing, which provides vouchers and rent support for those struggling to afford a place to stay. 

“We need to get people to the right place. We just shouldn't be arresting them or ticketing them because that doesn't work, it doesn't help,” said Adler. 

The mayor said he and City Council will meet with the community to gather other ideas in the coming weeks, but, ultimately, it will be the city's new homeless strategy officer and the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition who will develop a plan for the city.