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After Prop B's passage, Austin officials are considering a plan to establish temporary sanctioned homeless camps. (Laura Figi)

City staff have reviewed more than 70 city-owned properties that could serve as temporary sanctioned homeless camps and will present potential site options in each council district to Austin City Council on Tuesday, according to a memo issued late Friday. They estimate that each camp will cost between $1.4 and $1.9 million to operate on an annual basis and have a capacity of 50 to 100 people.

Council members voted unanimously last week to direct staff to develop a plan and a budget for temporary sanctioned encampments after the resounding victory of Proposition B in the May 1 election. The proposition, which reinstated city bans on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of central Austin earlier this week, forced city officials to revisit temporary sanctioned encampments, an idea they previously abandoned because of concerns around their cost and upkeep.

"Consequently, in the face of insufficient shelter capacity, sanctioned encampments may be viewed as an alternative to illegal public camping, the imposition of criminal charges on the unsheltered, and the unintended consequence of increased numbers of encampments relocating into less visible, wooded areas that present high wildfire and flood risks," Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey and Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley wrote in the memo.

Staff recommend that each sanctioned camp offer basic infrastructure, including:

  • Electricity
  • Water service
  • Restrooms
  • Showers
  • Lighting

Other services may include perimeter fencing, trash collection, laundry facilities, storage and transportation.

Sites will also require general operational staff, 24/7 security personnel and service providers, with a focus on those that can help connect homeless residents to permanent housing and offer behavioral health support.

In addition to annual costs, each site is expected to require one-time startup costs, such as extending access to electricity and water lines. Staff's preliminary analysis suggests these could range from $200,000 to several million dollars depending on the site, according to the memo.

Although Prop B passed with nearly 58% of the vote and council has directed staff to consider temporary sanctioned camps, the memo raises familiar concerns about the strategy, including the difficulty of closing such sites once opened and the possibility of ballooning operating costs. Some Austinites, including Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, have also raised concerns about the possibility of sanctioned camps on city parkland.

Others support the sanctioned camp model. Max Moscoe is community engagement coordinator for The Other Ones Foundation, a local nonprofit that helps operate the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Southeast Austin. "Having a central hub of resources directly in the place where people are staying makes access to service much easier for clients," he wrote in an email to Austonia. "It is also helpful to have people in a consistent and safe place where they can gain traction and stability."

City staff are due to issue two subsequent reports to council, in addition to Friday's memo. By June 1, they will provide a proposed implementation schedule, potential funding 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.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition conducts an annual homeless census. This year's count was canceled due to the pandemic, but in 2020 the nonprofit counted 1,574 unsheltered homeless people in the Austin-Travis County area.


(Austonia file photo)

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