AUSTIN — As lawlessness continues to unravel on the streets of Texas’ capital city, Austinites have a new opportunity to directly address it.
On Monday, early voting kicked off for the city’s May election, in which Austinites will make several important decisions for their local government, including the contentious homeless camping issue.
Proposition B, as it will appear on the ballot, confronts the current unrestrained public camping throughout the city. A “yes” vote would restore the city’s original vagrancy camping law, while “no” would continue to allow the lawless tent city environment.
The issue traces back to a controversial decision by Austin’s city officials.
In 2019, the Democrat-run Austin City Council legalized homeless camping in nearly all public spaces (except city hall, notably).
The council’s action sparked a swarm of new tent cities along sidewalks and neighborhoods, a drastic increase in the city’s homeless population, a more dangerous public environment, and a wildfire of public backlash (including warnings from numerous law enforcement officials and a citizen-led petition with more than 126,000 signatures).
Over the past two years, countless citizens have testified and shared their stories of experiencing assaults, thefts, vandalism, and other aggravated crimes at the hands of criminal transients who are allowed to live and roam among their apartments, businesses, schools, and neighborhoods.
Most recently, a historic downtown tower was set ablaze by a fire from a nearby homeless encampment.
In January, citizens successfully submitted a petition with more than 26,000 signatures to city hall to force a public vote on the issue in the May election.
Citizens who helped organize the effort say Prop B is Austinites’ response to make “the city council answer for their failed policy.”
“Everyone should ask: Is our community safe? Do we feel that we can let our children walk to the park or go to school or use the trails safely? Do we want this madness to end?” said Cleo Petricek, a self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat and co-founder of citizen group Save Austin Now.
“Every day, Austinites are suffering from the free-for-all associated with the City’s deregulation of all public camping and aggressive panhandling,” wrote SAN on their website. “It’s not helping the homeless, and it’s not helping Austin.”
“In January 2019, the City of Austin estimated there were 2,500 homeless people in the city proper. Today we estimate that number to be at or above 5,000 and they’re coming from all over the country because of the lawlessness that the City of Austin has embraced,” wrote SAN co-founder Matt Mackowiak on Monday.
Mackowiak added that instead of following proven successful models, such as Austin’s nonprofit Community First micro-home village or Haven for Hope in San Antonio, city officials spent $161 million in the past three years on their own homelessness plan to only provide approximately 200 new beds annually, a rough cost of $13,000 per person per year.
“The Council wants to spend an additional $73M on homelessness this year…it’s time they show where they’ve been spending the money,” Mackowiak said. “Ask your Council Member the hard questions: Are they willing to submit to an independent audit? …Where did the $161M go?
“Is this the legacy you want to be remembered for, mayor, city manager, and city council members? Creating policies that enable dangerous conditions for the homeless and the rest of Austin’s citizens that ultimately create fear and distrust in your citizens?” wrote citizen Deborah Sterzing.
Early voting is underway and runs from April 19-27. Election Day is May 1.