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Homeless camps have grown along Cesar Chavez Street near Lady Bird Lake in the wake of the City Council's 2019 decision to overturn a ban on camping. (Emma Freer/Austonia)

Austin voters have decided: The city will reinstate a ban on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of downtown, near East Austin and West Campus.

Proposition B, which proposed reinstating the ban and criminalizing the activities it prohibits, passed with 57.7% of the vote. Across Travis, Williamson and Hays counties, all of which include portions of the city of Austin, 220,420 ballots were cast, accounting for around 18.1% of registered voters.

Now that Prop B has passed, it will take effect—likely in the next couple of days—once the results have been certified.

The proposition stemmed from a citizen-led petition organized by the local political action committee Save Austin Now, which was co-founded by Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak and local Democratic advocate Cleo Petricek. The group's supporters argued that Austin City Council's 2019 decision to overturn the ban has led to an increasingly visible homeless population, with tent cities along Lady Bird Lake and the Riverside median that pose public health and safety concerns.

Prop B's passage is "a massive win for every Austinite who simply wants to live in a safe and clean city," Mackowiak tweeted Saturday evening after the early voting numbers were released.

Opponents, some of whom successfully advocated council two years ago to overturn the ban, argue that it does nothing to address homelessness or provide housing and instead leads to criminal citations, which can further disadvantage homeless residents in their search for housing, employment and other resources.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who led the charge on council to overturn the ban in 2019, does not believe the city is as divided on homelessness policy as the Prop B results may suggest. "We all want to get people out of tents and into homes," he said in an Election Night statement. "Our community must come together after this election and house 3,000 more people because we can only solve homelessness with homes, not handcuffs."

Between 2019 and 2020, the city's homeless population grew around 11%, according to the point-in-time count, an annual census conducted in January by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a local nonprofit. The 2021 count was canceled due to the pandemic.

Although the rate of homelessness in Austin is greater than in other big Texas cities, this growth is in keeping with slight increases across the state in the last few years, Texas Homeless Network President and CEO Eric Samuels recently told Austonia. "We know that people are living behind our greenbelts, people are living in encampments," he said. "Now those people are just more visible, and I think that has caused a lot of the public in Austin to think that homelessness has exploded, when in reality it hasn't. It's just their recognition of homelessness has exploded."

The election period was contentious one.

Mayor Steve Adler urged residents to vote against Prop B on Monday, noting that the early voting turnout thus far had skewed older and more conservative than the city's overall population. Some Prop B supporters took issue with this, arguing that he was being dismissive of certain voters or politicizing Prop B, which Save Austin Now's cofounders have stressed is a bipartisan effort.

State lawmakers are considering a statewide camping ban in response to Austin's changing policy.

Ongoing city efforts to provide housing, including to homeless people living in four designated camps, will continue, city officials have said.


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