With Proposition B's passage, Austin City Council looks to solidify homelessness summit goals, may consider designated campgrounds

New penalties for camping and several other activities will be enforced after the May 1 election is certified and Proposition B's homeless ordinances are in effect. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
New penalties for camping and several other activities will be enforced after the May 1 election is certified and Proposition B's homeless ordinances are in effect. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

New penalties for camping and several other activities will be enforced after the May 1 election is certified and Proposition B's homeless ordinances are in effect. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the sponsors and co-sponsors of the resolution to be considered by council May 6.

Following Austinites' passage of Proposition B in the May 1 election by a more than 15% margin, city officials are now considering how to begin the process of removing the controversial downtown encampments that spurred much of the passion behind the ballot item while planning for possible spaces for the camps' homeless residents to relocate to.

Proposition B passed with 57% support from Austin voters with more than 90,000 people across Travis, Williamson and Hays counties voting in favor of the measure and just over 66,000 against. Once the May 1 election is officially certified, the multi-part proposition will create a city ordinance criminalizing camping in public spaces; panhandling at night; and sitting, lying down and sleeping throughout much of downtown.

Andy Tate, a city of Austin spokesperson, said the city is now in the process of evaluating the enforcement of penalties contained in the new ordinance, which is expected to take effect May 11.

"We will start with education and outreach and will focus first on individuals living in situations that present higher health and safety risks. Outreach will be ongoing as we continue to assess encampment sites and coordinate with our service providers," Tate said in a statement.


While the exact timeline and scope of enforcement for the Proposition B ordinance are yet to be determined, City Council may look to the concept of establishing designated campsites in the near future as a replacement for the unregulated encampments that have become a common sight throughout downtown since 2019. A late addition to council's May 6 meeting agenda centers on a resolution both reaffirming a commitment to mitigating homelessness through work with housing-focused organizations as well as a directive to City Manager Spencer Cronk to research and report to council over the coming weeks on possible strategies for implementing "temporary designated encampments on public land" and expanded tiny homesites for temporary housing.

While the Proposition B ordinance did not include any housing directives alongside the reinstated criminal offenses, leaders with the Save Austin Now political group behind the proposition campaign had highlighted designated campgrounds and expanded tiny homesites as possible temporary solutions to housing the homeless as unofficial downtown camps are cleared out. Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak said on election night that Austin leaders should consider a model similar to San Antonio's Haven For Hope campus with on-site services or an increase in the number of microhomes available at public and private sites.

“No. 1, we need to replicate the Haven for Hope model, and we need to do it now. Second, we know that the microhome, tiny-home strategy that we’ve seen work in Community First Village is also now being implemented at Camp Esperanza," Mackowiak said. "We need to take those two facilities and probably multiply them by a factor of 10. ... Those are the models that we know work."

Whether the council resolution up for consideration May 6—authored and sponsored by Council Member Kathie Tovo and co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Ann Kitchen, Alison Alter and Pio Renteria—will pass remains to be seen, but if approved as drafted, Cronk would share an initial overview on best practices for designated encampments with council May 14. That report would be followed by a June 1 presentation of a finalized schedule, a cost estimate, a list of potential community partners for the establishment of several designated campgrounds, and a list of public or private spaces "that could accommodate tiny home structures to serve as temporary housing."

Continuing city strategy

Council this month may also cement a citywide objective of housing thousands of individuals in three years that emerged from a recent summit on homelessness with participants including government, business and nonprofit representatives. A resolution passed through the Austin Housing and Planning Committee on May 3 and set to appear on council's May 20 agenda for consideration would direct Cronk to add the goal of housing 3,000 people by April 2024 to the city's strategic housing blueprint.

Goals of securing 2,300 rental units and providing funding for 350 permanent supportive housing units annually were included in the draft resolution out of the housing committee, and the summit plan is not expected to supplant work on the city's in-progress Housing-Focused Homeless Encampment Assistance Link initiative.

“We must pull more of our unhoused neighbors out of tents and into homes with health services and job opportunities,” said Council Member Greg Casar, the chair of the housing and planning committee, in a statement. “Austin’s goals for housing those who are homeless have been far too low for far too long. By housing 3,000 more people in the coming months and years, we can drastically reduce homelessness in our community. This goal was developed at Austin’s homelessness summit, and it should go directly into our city’s housing plan.”

Participants in the homelessness strategy summit, including city officials and staff, have highlighted increased contributions from local governments, businesses, nonprofits and community members as essential to meetings the ambitious goals resulting from the weekslong event. Laura Huffman, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, which served as one of the summit's architects, said some of the convention's top results were a renewed collaboration between community stakeholders and a recognition of need for larger contributions outside local government structures.

"The more we got into discussion, the more buy-in we got from people that had either been working directly or indirectly on this issue. And like a lot of complicated issues, one of the big things that had to happen was people had to get in conversation with one another and agree that this was a complex problem and it was going to require a big set of solutions and serious investment in those solutions," Huffman said.

Alongside housing efforts through the HEAL program and possible city-led steps toward establishing designated campsites, the summit plan is expected to gradually ramp up over the next three years in addition to stabilizing a response system for the newly homeless. According to a city overview of the summit goals, the plan calls for housing a total of 400 people by the end of 2021, increasing to 1,200 people by late 2022 and reaching the 3,000-person benchmark by April 2024, all while establishing a framework for future housing support.

"What was missing from this was essentially a systems approach where you started with an endgame in mind. ... But then beyond that, to have a system that is fully capable of responding to people who become newly homeless inside of 30 days so that we don't have people that are experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Austin for really long periods of time," Huffman said. "It’s not just to house 3,000 people in three years; it’s to make sure that the system that’s generated to do that can also provide long-term solutions for people who find themselves newly homeless."


MOST RECENT

Community groups painted "Black Austin Matters" along three blocks of Congress Avenue in 2020. Juneteenth, an official city of Austin holiday as of 2020, commemorates the day Black residents of Texas found out they were free from slavery in 1865. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Juneteenth in Austin: Parade and fireworks information, other community events, city closures

The holiday commemorates the day Black enslaved residents of Texas were told they were free in Galveston in 1865.

The mid-June East Sixth Street shooting has prompted responses from city police, EMS and government officials. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sixth Street fatal shooting leads to renewed discussions of public safety staffing, gun violence prevention in Austin

Increased police staffing, improved EMS availability, and state or federal action on gun violence prevention are among the proposals floated in the wake of the weekend shooting.

Plans to move forward with the design of a new Travis County women's jail have been postponed indefinitely. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Travis County pauses plans to build new women's jail

Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone any design or construction of new jail facilities for at least a year while staff re-evaluate the Travis County correctional system's needs.

Austin FC fans
Austin FC supporters groups release parade route ahead of inaugural home game

Motorists should look for pedestrians walking around near the site of Q2 Stadium ahead of Austin FC's June 19 inaugural home game.

Joseph Chacon, interim chief of the Austin Police Department, gives an update on Austin's recent move into the second phase of Proposition B camping ban enforcement June 15 alongside Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey and City Manager Spencer Cronk. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Proposition B enforcement shifts from education to warnings

Austin officials on June 15 provided an update on enforcement and outreach work by city staff and the Austin Police Department with the second phase of Proposition B camping ban enforcement now underway.

Candlewood Suites Northwest Austin
Williamson County declines lawsuit against Austin over Candlewood Suites saga—for now

Williamson County did not hold a vote to file a lawsuit against the city of Austin over the contentious Candlewood Suites property in Northwest Austin.

Photo of Chez Nous in black and white
Chez Nous, downtown Austin's longstanding French bistro, permanently closes

The restaurant opened in 1982 after its owners moved to Texas from Paris.

Photo of Moderna vaccine vials on a table
50% of Travis County residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Travis County has reached a milestone in COVID-19 vaccinations.

Pedestrian crossing signals
Burnet Road sidewalk improvements near Q2 Stadium expected to finish by July

City crews are working on several projects along Burnet Road that will make the corridor safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued a call for Texans to conserve energy June 14. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT asks Texans to conserve energy with generation outages 2.5 times higher than normal

"This is unusual for this early in the summer season," said Woody Rickerson, ERCOT vice president of grid planning and operations, in a news release.

The rezoning request for the Springdale Green Planned Unit Development passed Austin City Council 10-0 June 10. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Rezoning for East Austin's Springdale Green PUD plan passes in unanimous City Council vote

The PUD plan garnered some community resistance this spring due to concerns over how a height increase for the project's proposed office towers could affect development and resident displacement in surrounding neighborhoods.