An ordinance to prohibit camping or establishing living accommodations in public areas was approved Aug. 20 by Leander City Council. It also establishes a $500 violation fine per day or partial day.

Council Member Jason Shaw said homelessness should be addressed with compassion. He said the city needs to address homelessness and camping now and know what resources are available to help people who may need to sleep in their car a night or two.

“I think we need to have a little bit more leeway, a little bit more empathy,” Shaw said.

Mayor Troy Hill said there was a recent situation in which there was a person camping, and Hill said he called Hill Country Community Ministries, which aided the person immediately.

Leander Police Chief Greg Minton said there are city services and funds available to help people with hardships and to provide housing and food. He said the department pushes compassion and empathy when working with people experiencing homelessness.

Minton said there needs to be something in place that helps with compliance for public area camping. He said the cities of Austin, Pflugerville and Cedar Park are working to manage tent issues now.

The city of Cedar Park prohibited camping in public areas in March 2012, and the city of Pflugerville updated its citywide public camping ordinance in Nov. 2019. In Oct. 2019, the city of Austin banned public camping on sidewalks with exceptions to sitting or lying down unless within 15 feet of a business.

Cedar Park spokesperson Jennie Huerta said camping in public areas is not a current issue in their city.

“Once you set that precedent, then it will overwhelm you quickly,” Minton said. “I don’t think we have a huge problem now, but it’s what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years in Leander.”

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information about public camping ordinances in nearby cities.