AUSTIN, Texas - Wednesday marks day two of Austin’s homeless camping ban, as we hear from city officials about exactly how enforcement will work in the weeks and months ahead. However, not everyone agrees with the gradual approach the city is taking.
As of Tuesday, it is now illegal to camp just about anywhere in Austin, after voters passed Proposition B earlier this month. But city officials now admit it will be some time before people are able to be moved either to designated encampments or into housing. That is part of the reason why the city is taking a phased approach.
For the next two months—during Phases 1 and 2—the city will be giving out warnings and eventually citations, as well as beginning the cleanup process. However, police will not begin making any arrests or clearing out campsites until Phase 3, which begins in July. Starting then, people living in camps will be given three days’ notice to vacate.
"We’re really looking at citations and arrest as a last resort. We want to do the education and outreach first to educate our full community and particularly our community of folks that are experiencing homelessness, about what we're trying to accomplish and what the voters have decided and to do it in a safe and humane manner," said Austin Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon.
"60 days is ridiculous for full enforcement," said Matt Mackowiak, founder of Save Austin Now. "The idea that this takes some massive new regime, with lots of time to prepare for it, I think is a slap in the face of everyone who voted for this."
City officials say their focus right now is on community engagement, and they want to give people living in camps the chance to relocate voluntarily, but leaders of the Downtown Austin Alliance say the city needs to figure out where those people will go.
The city is still in the process of identifying designated locations where camping will be allowed. City Manager Spencer Cronk says his staff is looking at public parks among other options. We expect to have a better idea of specific sites by the end of this week.
In the meantime, park rangers will be reaching out to people in camps to connect them with services, and city leaders are calling on non-profits to help as well. As we head into summer, officials say they will be assessing whether additional resources and strategies are needed.