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Austin City Council leaving for 6 week break without plans to address voter-backed camping ban

Protesters of the camping ban have pitched their tents outside of City Hall since the ordinance was approved on May 1. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

Police can start issuing citations to homeless residents who continue camping in restricted areas on Sunday, more than a month after Austin voters approved Prop B. But Austin City Council has yet to identify places where such residents can go, legally and safely.

Members shelved discussion of the topic during virtual meetings on Monday and Tuesday, citing time constraints, and mostly rejected city staff's suggestions for potential sanctioned encampment sites last month. Meanwhile, the grounds of City Hall remain the site of a camp-in protest.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler acknowledged that the council had "danced around" the topic during a special called meeting Monday. "With Proposition B and the vote of the community I think we have an obligation to stop people from camping and tenting in public spaces, and the (city) manager's been charged with that," he said.

Tents and protesters have remained outside City Hall, but soon police will be able to issue citations for campers. (Laura Figi/Austonia)


Where we are now

City staff say they need more direction from council on how to designate such campsites and how to pay for them—and time is running out. Council breaks for a six-week summer recess next week, and Adler has signaled that he hopes to take up the land development code, arguably as contentious an issue as homelessness, on the other side.

In response to members' concerns about the proposed campsites, Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey issued a memo last week with more specific criteria, including:

  • Potential 2-year temporary use
  • At least 2 acres per 50 people
  • Access to public transportation and basic retail services
  • Low wildfire and flood risk
  • Proximity to schools

But she added that such criteria "severely limits the use of City-owned land as an option for consideration," and staff need more policy direction on how to proceed.

Grey also presented an implementation schedule, which would see:

  • Congregate shelters, such as the ARCH and Salvation Army, expand their capacity by July now that the pandemic is less acute
  • The conversion of an existing ProLodge into a bridge shelter, where people can stay temporarily while permanent housing is being arranged, and the possible lease of an additional motel property for the same purpose
  • The opening of at least one designed encampment site by July

But its implementation hinges on council providing such direction by Thursday, says city staff. There is no agenda item regarding encampments, which means council can't take formal action.

"Austinites aren't getting what they voted for; they're getting the runaround; and getting angrier and more fired up to oust all existing leadership as a result," Save Austin Now tweeted Monday.

How we got here

Austin City Council overturned the ban in 2019 after a successful campaign by advocates, who argued that it criminalized homelessness. In the wake of this decision, homelessness grew more visible, with encampments forming along Lady Bird Lake, and a series of fires stoked concerns.

Austin residents voted to reinstate the ban during the May 1 election after a successful counter-campaign spearheaded by the local political action committee Save Austin Now.

The city of Austin announced a multi-phase plan to reimplement the ban, which applies to sitting, lying and panhandling as well as camping in parts of central Austin.

Council also revisited the idea of sanctioned encampments—areas homeless can be with some amenities and without fear of arrest—which they had previously abandoned due to concerns about costs and permanency. But when staff presented 45 options last month, members pushed back.

"I'm committed to trying to find a way to make this work," District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said during a May 18 work session, echoing many of her colleagues. "But the sites that you've designated… they just won't work."


This story has been updated at 10:30 a.m. to include confirmation by city staff that: "There is no agenda item regarding encampments, which means council can't take formal action."

Popular

Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.

Mac and Cheese Fest and Free Art Exhibit
Waterloo Greenway, Good Vibrations Installation


🗓 All weekend

🎨 Creek Show Art Exhibit

Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities

All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park

✨ Mozart's Light Show

This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.

6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

🗓 Saturday

🥊 Kickboxing in the Park

This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.

10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park

🛍 The Front Market

Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.

11 a.m - 5 p.m | 📍Ani's Day and Night - 7107 E Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78741

🗓 Sunday

🧀 Mac and Cheese Fest

Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.

11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway