After Austin City Council Members Kathie Tovo and Ann Kitchen proposed a resolution to restrict homeless encampments from specific areas in downtown, West Campus and East Austin on Sept. 10, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar proposed an alternative version later the same day.
“We believe our ordinance better strikes a balance of protecting public health and safety, protecting public spaces, and not infringing on the civil rights of individuals in our city,” Adler wrote in a post on the council message board Sept. 10.
In June, Austin City Council decriminalized public camping throughout the city, with the exception of parkland, flood plains, and city-owned and private property. City staff followed this up last month by recommending the city reimpose some restrictions to city camping rules.
The resolutions are tentatively scheduled for discussion at a special-called meeting next week.
The first proposal
In addition to restricting homeless encampments from designated areas, Tovo and Kitchen called for restrictions to extend to transit stops, along Safe Routes to School, sloped areas under overpasses and areas around shelters, including the downtown Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.
Tovo and Kitchen also asked City Manager Spencer Cronk to create a map of where public camping is restricted and enforce local and state laws that relate to the use of fire pits and grills and building structures on public land. They also said they wanted to see enforcement around cleanup of pet and human waste, drug use, and manipulation or modification of public infrastructure.
Their resolution also asks the city manager to explore the cost of replacing confiscated restricted items with authorized ones for public campers and to create a map of where the city will install public toilets and garbage pickup stations.
Finally, the resolution asks that police give public campers reasonable time to move from a restricted area and call on social workers, such as the city’s homeless outreach street team, to deal with campers who remain in restricted areas after they have been asked to move.
In response, Council Members Leslie Pool and Alison Alter agreed to co-sponsor the resolution in a post to the council’s message board.
The second proposal
While thanking Tovo and Kitchen for their work, Casar wrote in a response post, “I cannot support a final ordinance unless it is non-discriminatory and won’t re-criminalize basic acts of survival by our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”
With Adler, he proposed a separate set of options for restricting homeless encampments from designated areas.
Both agree encampments that do not allow for at least a 4-foot clear zone on sidewalks, shared-use paths and trails should be prohibited, as should encampments that render a building entrance impassable.
Unlike Tovo and Kitchen’s version, Casar and Adler’s does not prohibit camping on whole streets outright.
Both wrote they agree that camping should be prohibited within at least a half-mile radius—Adler proposed up to a half-mile—around shelters outside the Central Business District. This deviates from Tovo and Kitchen’s version, which does not specify a radius size.
Resolutions need four sponsors to be included on the agenda. Tovo and Kitchen’s ordinance has met that threshold and thus will be taken up at the special-called meeting.
Adler and Casar asked colleagues to sponsor their version so it can also be discussed.