As Austin’s Democrat-run city council is already ignoring citizens following the overwhelming public rebuke of their homelessness policies earlier this month, they’re now considering turning dozens of city properties into authorized encampments.
During Tuesday’s council work session, city bureaucrats presented the council with a list of 45 potential locations to accommodate vagrants. The sites are located around the city, including public recreation centers and parks. The council’s goal is to create a final list by July 1.
The overall issue began in 2019, when the council controversially decided to repeal the city’s longstanding public camping rules, allowing unrestrained homeless squatting in nearly all public spaces (except city hall, notably).
The council’s action sparked a swarm of new tent cities, a drastic increase in the city’s homeless population, a more dangerous public environment, and a wildfire of public backlash. Violent crime subsequently rose by double digits, with homicides up 64 percent year over year in 2020 and continuing to rise to record numbers in 2021.
The issue culminated earlier this month, when Austinites, after a long grassroots petition campaign, voted overwhelmingly to restore the city’s original public camping rules.
As the council considers converting public areas into homeless campsites, nonpartisan citizen group Save Austin Now (the primary supporter of the recent public referendum) released the following statement:
We want to highlight that on May 11 the city began enforcement of Proposition B, the strong, bipartisan vote that reversed the 2019 decision to allow unregulated homeless encampments across our city. Unfortunately, today the City Manager released to council a plan that would not only ignore the will of the 58% majority of Austinites who went to the polls but make matters worse by placing permanent encampments in every single neighborhood in Austin, and in many cases inside city parks or near locations with large collections of children and families like libraries. We will fight every single encampment location that destroys our environment or risks the safety of families and children.
The proposal is based on the premise that city councilors do not want to make any difficult decisions, and as such want there to be homeless encampments designated in every single city council district in our city. The proposals include some of our most beautiful parks. … They also want to take over Five recreation centers used predominantly by low-income working Austinites. …
What the voters said was clear. If we need to be even more clear: First, no homeless encampment should be designated within walking distance of a pre-k, primary, middle, or high school. Second, no city park or recreation center, which [is] used disproportionately by low-income working Austinites, should be turned into a permanent homeless encampment.
Austinites came out to vote for Proposition B, according to our polls, for three primary reasons: First, the city council’s policy led to their beloved parks being overrun with trash, needles, and feces. Second, feelings of safety in neighborhoods and around schools close to encampments had plummeted. Third, personal experiences and encounters with verbal and sometimes physical harassment.
Placing homeless encampments permanently in every single city council district in our beloved public parks doesn’t just ignore the will of 58% of Austin voters, it throws hot water in their face.
Yesterday’s announcement comes as the Texas Senate is shortly expected to take up a measure banning public and unrestrained homeless encampments statewide. The impact of state legislation on the Austin City Council’s current proposal remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Austinites may contact their council member.