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Camp Esperanza, the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Southeast Austin, opened in late 2019 and is home to approximate 150 people. (Jordan Vonderhaar)

City staff compiled an initial list of 45 city-owned sites that could serve as temporary sanctioned homeless camps. The possible sites span across all 10 council districts and include decommissioned wastewater treatment plants, public parkland and recreation centers.

Leadership presented the options to Austin City Council on Tuesday afternoon, emphasizing that the sites are potential options and stressing that staff are still looking for other suggestions, including private land.

Most council members expressed concerns about the sites in their districts, especially those in parks, and safety risks given the recent spate of fires at homeless camps around town in recent months. Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria raised questions about the equitable distribution of such sites. "Unless everyone else participates, I don't think my community would accept a (sanctioned) homeless camp," he said.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution that directed staff to develop a plan and budget for temporary sanctioned camps after the resounding victory of Proposition B in the May 1 election, called on community members to offer up alternative sites. "Please help us with this," she said, citing dozens of constituent emails she received about the list in the few hours since it was made public.

The proposition, which reinstated city bans on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of Central Austin, took effect last week and forced city officials to revisit temporary sanctioned camps, an idea they previously abandoned because of concerns about cost and upkeep.

Save Austin Now, the local political action committee that spearheaded the Prop B campaign prepared to respond to the preliminary site options in a tweet Tuesday. "As the clueless city council prepares to announce dozens of 'campsites' near schools, we'll all be called 'NIMBYs' for fighting it," the group wrote.

Staff estimates each of the 10 proposed camps will cost between $1.4 and $1.9 million to operate on an annual basis and have a capacity of 50 to 100 people. Annual operating costs will likely include basic infrastructures, such as electricity and water service, as well as other services, such as trash collection, laundry facilities and 24/7 security.

Council members expressed concern about these cost estimates and floated the idea of restricting certain services or sharing them among camp sites to lower costs.

Following Tuesday's presentation, staff are due to issue two subsequent reports to council. By June 1, they will provide a proposed implementation schedule, potential funding sources and possible partners that can help share the cost or provide services. By July 1, they will identify land within the city limits that could accommodate tiny home structures to serve as temporary housing and the estimated related costs.

This story was updated at 4:25 p.m. to include council's discussion of these sites.


(Austonia file photo)

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