Those tiers specify:
- Phase 1 – 30 days of education and community engagement;
- Phase 2 – 30 days of Austin Police Department (APD) issuing written warnings and initial citations;
- Phase 3 – APD may begin arresting camping ban violators after citations have already been issued;
- Phase 4 – Arrests and citations will continue “as necessary.”
In a Tuesday press conference, City Manager Spencer Cronk, Austin Police Department Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, and the city’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey discussed the phased enforcement policy.
“We want to find alternatives to camping — giving people places to go,” Cronk told press on Tuesday.
The city will be identifying suitable sites for camping, the first report for which will be provided this Friday. The State of Texas currently sanctions and monitors a similar campsite in Austin, Camp R.A.T.T.
“In Phase 1, we are not anticipating folks having to move unless there is a public safety concern,” Gray stated.
Chacon added about the transition, “As we have done in the past with other policy changes, there will be a period of time to educate the community.”
But once that phase concludes, 72-hour notices will be posted at campsites that are set to be cleaned out by Austin Public Works. Homeless individuals will be referred to shelters or other service sites. The officials further stated, however, that shelters are currently operating at reduced capacity and couldn’t house the entire homeless population even if they were fully operational.
Once the latter three phases are reached, non-compliant individuals who are cited will not be taken to jail. Instead, the city is working with the Downtown Community Court to bring defendants directly to court and transition them into a diversion program.
This new plan comes on the heels of almost two years of community criticism over the public safety implications surrounding the council’s now-previous policy.
Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, co-founders Save Austin Now, criticized the city’s enforcement plan, stating, “It took just ten days to enforce the ridiculous public camping ordinance that took effect July 1, 2019. Why does full enforcement of the public camping ban require 60 days? The camping ban was in effect for 23 years; it should not require 60 days to put it back in place and restore public safety and public health to our city.”
On May 1, Austin voters decided to reinstate the public camping ban that was in place before July 2019. The ballot initiative was supported by a wide bipartisan array of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Save Austin Now, the organization driving the petition effort to place the question on the ballo, was spearheaded by Mackowiak and Petricek — a GOP county chair and a Democratic activist, respectively.
For almost two years, Austin has operated with few regulations on public camping — a decision made by the city council that sprouted tent encampments throughout the city.
The council slightly walked back that policy — limiting camping and laying to outside 15 feet from a business entryway — after problems stemming from the policy crescendoed. A piece of state legislation is working its way through the capitol that would establish a statewide public camping ban, and it would go into effect on September 1 if it is signed by the governor.
The city also announced it will release updated homeless population numbers next week, five months after it postponed the originally scheduled count due to the pandemic. When asked for further clarification, Gray told The Texan the update is from an analysis done based on the 2020 Census data.
Last week, the city council voted to restart one of the APD cadet classes that it postponed during its $150 million budget cut and redirection last summer.
More information on the city’s homeless policy and plan can be found here.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include comment from Save Austin Now.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.