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Data: Most homelessness-related ordinance violations are dismissed

Austin police will be able to arrest individuals who refuse to vacate certain homeless camps starting July 11. (Laura Figi)

City of Austin officials say police can begin arresting individuals who refuse to vacate dangerous homeless camps, including those in flood-prone areas or near busy roadways, on July 11.

Meanwhile, public records obtained by Austonia show that the majority of homelessness-related charges were dropped over a six-year period.

More than half of 6,806 charges filed between January 2015 and mid-May 2021 were dismissed or closed for a variety of reasons, including plea bargains and "(in the) interest of justice," according to city data. Twenty-eight cases were closed because the defendant had died. Around a quarter of defendants charged were found guilty.

Nearly 58% of Austin residents voted to approve Proposition B during the May 1 election, which reinstates three local ordinances regarding:

  • Sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk
  • Aggressive solicitation
  • Public camping

Now the city of Austin is reinstating these ordinances. Police began issuing warnings and citations earlier this month. Starting July 11, police policies will allow the arrest of individuals who refuse to vacate certain camps, although city officials have said arrests will be a last resort.

Save Austin Now, the political committee that championed Prop B, has criticized the multi-phase plan and the dearth of citations issued since its passage. Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said at a June 15 news conference that police had not issued any citations or made any arrests during the first phase of the plan, which ran from May 11 through June 12.

Nearly 54% of the 6,806 charges filed between January 2015 and mid-May of this year related to the ordinance prohibiting sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors, according to city data. Although public camping was the focus of Prop B, that ordinance accounted for about one quarter of the charges filed.

City officials are still working out where homeless residents can go, legally, in the absence of adequate shelter space and housing units.

Council members directed staff to identify possible temporary sanctioned campsites in each district but pushed back on most of the options presented, citing concerns about parkland and public safety. They then failed to provide direction on additional campsite criteria and a possible implementation plan before taking a six-week recess.

During the final phase of the implementation plan, which begins Aug. 8, police can arrest individuals who do not voluntarily leave campsites.


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