Austin Voters Reinstate Homeless Camping Ban

Voters in Austin have chosen once again to ban homeless encampments within city limits. This marks a win for critics who saw the mayor’s and city council’s decision to decriminalize homeless camping as a failure to address Austin’s homelessness crisis.

A homeless encampment on East 7th Street in Austin, Texas. (Courthouse News photo/Madison Venza)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The success of Proposition B comes after two years of the group Save Austin Now PAC fighting to reinstate a camping ban after the mayor and city council passed an ordinance decriminalizing camping in 2019.

Save Austin Now PAC was formed in 2019 by Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County GOP, and Cleo Petricek. 

“This victory is the first step in moving Austin back to a state of safety and [will force] the city to actually execute a credible housing plan,” said Petricek responding to the victory of the proposition.

Currently in the city of Austin, people can camp legally as long as they do not obstruct a sidewalk or driveway. 

Prop. B will make it a criminal offense for anyone found camping anywhere, outside of places designated by the Parks and Recreation Department, within city limits, sitting or lying down anywhere in the downtown and UT campus area, and panhandling in an aggressive manner.

Prop. B faced opposition from Mayor Steve Adler, members of the city council and high priority Democrats in the state of Texas such as Beto O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

Opponents to Prop. B said that a new ban does not address the root causes of homelessness in Austin. Matt Mollica, Executive Director of Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), said a ban also creates an “entanglement” between homeless and the criminal justice system, diverting them off of a path of recovery. 

The Travis County Clerk’s office reported that 14% of registered voters voted early. That is significantly up from the 4% that voted early in the 4% that voted early in the 2018 special election. Of those who voted early, 63% voted for Prop B, and nearly 35% voted against. 

Austin’s previous homeless camping ban was adopted in 1996 and lasted for 23 years until a 2017 city audit criticized the ban for stacking fines on people experiencing homelessness, making it harder for them to exit homelessness. Since the end of the ban, the city of Austin has adopted a Housing First strategy, which focuses on housing the unsheltered and providing a platform from which they are able to recover from. 

The debate over homeless camping bans in Texas is far from over, with two bills in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate that would make camping in an undesignated area a Class C misdemeanor. 

This was the first time Austin voters had a direct say in the city’s response to homeless encampments.

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