A new effort has been launched in Austin to place a reinstatement of the full camping and lying ordinance on the November ballot. The effort is spearheaded by the groups Save Austin Now, the Austin Police Association, and SafeHorns.
Since the July 1 ordinance change, Austin’s homelessness problem has received constant community attention. Townhalls on the issue have had thousands of community members attend, mostly to voice their opposition.
Businesses have dealt with an uptick in homeless-related issues. The state has gotten involved in cleaning up encampments. Safety protocols surrounding the University of Texas have been ramped up. And it has even gained the attention of national media.
Much of the public has been clamoring for a return to the original ban, but the city council has only partially reinstituted the original ban — prohibiting camping and lying within 15 feet of a business entryway.
On Monday, the coalition announced its plan to reinstate the ban: through a ballot initiative. Ballot initiatives serve as a check on elected officials by citizens, allowing them to bypass the council legislative channel.
To get the ban on the ballot in November, the coalition must secure at least 20,000 unique “qualified voter” signatures by August 17 — or, essentially, five percent of the registered voters in Austin.
There are currently 524,679 “qualified voters” in Austin. Five percent of that total is slightly higher than 20,000, but because 20,000 is the smaller number, that is what is used.
The verification period of those signatures is typically 12 to 15 days, according to the city clerk’s office.
In a Medium post, Save Austin Now leader, Matt Mackowiak, wrote, “We have tried to persuade the Mayor and the City Council that this camping policy has been an objective failure. But they refuse to listen.”
“Our coalition is made up of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. We represent all neighborhoods in this city. This is an entirely nonpartisan effort,” he continued.
A 2019 Community Survey by the City of Austin found that 55 percent of Austinites do not feel safe walking alone downtown at night.
Mackowiak concluded, “We can restore sanity to Austin. We can restore public safety and public health. We can return to being a city where residents feel safe to walk at night. We can maintain our image as a thriving and welcoming city.”
Progressive councilman Greg Casar, who spearheaded rescinding the original ordinance, issued the following statement: “If the Travis County GOP Chair wants to spend a lot of money, time, and energy on a hurtful campaign that will do nothing to decrease our homeless population, that’s certainly his choice. But if Gov. Greg Abbott and the GOP Chair truly cared about public safety and public health in Austin, they would be working with the Austin City Council to provide housing and services to people experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, it seems clear that they are committed to making matters worse.”
Save Austin Now began circulating an online petition after the ordinance change which now has almost 90,000 signatures. That petition, however, is not limited to Austin “qualified voters.”
The ballot initiative petition can be found here.
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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 watching and quoting Monty Python productions.