U.S. Rep says Austin's camping policies endanger homeless population

U.S. Representative Chip Roy (R-Austin) is calling on Austin City Council and Mayor Steve Adler to reinstate the city’s camping ban. 

Roy said the new policy is negatively impacting people who live and work in Austin and will drive away tourists and visitors. 

While city council said they loosened camping restrictions to decriminalize homelessness, others, like Roy, say leaving homeless people in tents on the sidewalk puts them in greater danger.

“Right now, there are folks who live downtown saying they don't want to live down here anymore, people who are officing downtown saying if something doesn't change they might not renew their leases and people who visit are frequently saying they're not coming back,” said Bill Brice, vice president of the Downtown Austin Alliance.  

The DAA represents property owners in the Downtown Public Improvement District. While they are encouraged that city council has increased funding to get ahead of the homeless crisis, they said loosening camping restrictions also created new problems. 

“There is immediate action that's needed to help provide services, and shelter, and housing for people that need that, but also relief to the environment downtown that is unsafe and simply unhealthy for people to be lying and camping in the environment outside,” Brice said. 
“No one in Austin wants anybody camping anywhere in our city. It’s not the healthy, safest place for people to be, so we want to get people off the streets,” said Adler.  

So far, the DAA said city leaders have done a lot of talking about what needs to be done, but still very little has been done since Council voted on the ordinance changes in June. 

“We don't have one more shelter bed, one more place for people to be today than we did on June 20,” Brice said. 
“The goal here is not to put people in shelters, because we tried that, that's what we've done for years in this city,” said Adler.  

The DAA points out other cities helped provide safer places for their homeless population to stay, off the streets, in that same amount of time. 

“We know that cities like San Diego, Minneapolis and others have stood up temporary shelter in a matter of months,” Brice said.   

Roy’s letter goes on to say, "…It is bad enough to essentially give up on the homeless community by encouraging people to set up tents on the streets, but the city council's new policy also negatively impacts Austin residents, as well as tourists and visitors - including the hundreds of thousands of people traveling to Austin each year to enjoy events such as Austin City Limits…" 

“I think we should move those people off the street and move them into homes,” said Adler.  

“It doesn't have to take years at all. We should be looking now at buying some of the older motels that exist in our city, there are properties we can get that we can access right now,” he added. 

The mayor said he has not read Roy's letter so he cannot respond directly to it. 

However, he said one thing that would help with the city's homeless crisis is more funding, something he said Roy could help with by supporting HR 1856, the Ending Homelessness Act.