Local NewsAustin Business Owners, Activist Group Sue City Over Failure to Enforce Homeless Camping Ban

The continuous conflict over the city's homeless camping ban policy will soon enter its 26th month since it was first rescinded in July 2019.
August 25, 2021
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Two lawsuits were filed in Travis County District Court this week alleging that the City of Austin has failed to enforce the public camping ban that was reinstated back in May.

Austin voters approved the reinstatement by a wide margin after the activist group Save Austin Now collected 26,000 signatures in 50 days to place it on the ballot. Rather than implement the camping ban immediately, the city council decided to move toward a phased re-enforcement over the course of four months.

The fourth phase, begun earlier this month, was the first during which illegal campers that refused to move could be arrested. At the time of its start, numbers released by the city showed 572 warnings and 24 citations had been issued. No citations have been issued since July 20.

Since Phase 4’s beginning, some larger camps have been cleared out, but tents and encampments remain scattered throughout the city.

“That refusal leaves voters and residents of the City in the same position as they were before the ban was reinstated,” reads the first lawsuit filed by Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek.

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The other lawsuit — filed by Headspace Salon and Co-op owner Laura North, Balance Dance Studio owner Stuart Dupuy, Dairy Queen franchisee Robert Mayfield, and Buckshot Bar owner Bob Woody — say the city’s actions have “resulted in severe business disruption.”

“[The business owners] have incurred substantial expenses to protect their property, their customers, and their clients,” it adds further.

Those businesses are requesting at most $100,000 in monetary relief along with full enforcement of the ban.

In his legal statement, Mayfield says he’s had to hire off-duty police officers as security for the establishments — to the tune of $72,000 per store per year.

North stated that she’s shouldered over $10,000 in damages or stolen property stemming from incidents with homeless campers. She’s even had homeless individuals “urinate all over the walls” of her store’s bathroom and masturbate in public view on her property.

While interviewing a job candidate in May 2020, Dupuy said that a homeless man defecated in a potted plant sitting 10 feet from where the pair were sitting.

Taking aim at the city’s policy separate from Proposition B, called the HEAL initiative, Mackowiak stated, “Their regulated camping site effort has manifestly failed.”

“The HEAL initiative has only helped around 100 people, while at least 2,000 await any workable plan from the city after more than two years and at least $161 million spent.”

Filed in Travis County District Court, the lawsuits aim to force the city’s hand in fully enforcing the camping ban.

At the press conference announcing the suits, Mackowiak said, “[The city] is going to have to decide whether to admit that they do not have enough police officers to enforce the camping ban or that they do have enough police officers and that they’ve chosen not to enforce the camping ban.”

That statement dovetails into the other petition effort by Save Austin Now that would, among other objects, set a minimum staffing level for the Austin Police Department. That proposition is also the subject of litigation over the council’s allegedly “deficient” proposed language for the November ballot.

Now stretching into its 26th month as a focus of the public eye, Austin’s homeless camping policies continue to face opposition from many in the community — with few signs of resolution ahead.

Read the lawsuits and testimonials below.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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