Following overwhelming approval in a recent pivotal public election, Austinites reinstated a monumental homeless public camping ordinance that went back into effect on Tuesday. Sort of.
The Democrat-run Austin City Council is not going to enforce the ordinance until mid-July.
The reinstated city law was a response to the council’s controversial 2019 pro-vagrancy decision 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.
Even Democrat Mayor Steve Adler admitted what he and the council had done wasn’t working, though he refused to change their decision.
The May 1 result, following years of turmoil, was a stinging rebuke of the council’s action—yet the Democrat council majority is still thumbing their nose at that rebuke.
For the next month, the city will engage in what it euphemistically calls “education and outreach” among the city’s vagrants. If that sounds like a fancy way to say ‘doing nothing,’ that’s because it is. After that, the city will spend another 30 days requesting “voluntary compliance.”
Finally, if homeless individuals haven’t cleared their public camps after that, the city will begin to take action on July 10.
Save Austin Now, the citizen pro-public safety group that was the primary supporter of the recent referendum, released the following statement on the issue:
It took just ten days to enforce the ridiculous public camping ordinance that took effect July 1, 2019. Why does full enforcement of the public camping ban require 60 days? The camping ban was in effect for 23 years; it should not require 60 days to put it back in place and restore public safety and public health to our city.
Residents, small business owners, visitors, and Austinites who visit our city parks should not have to wait two more months before this public camping disaster is fixed once and for all. The will of the voters was clear. Nearly 91,000 Austinites voted to reinstate the public camping ban, over the strenuous opposition of the Mayor and nine of ten City Council members.
We want the homeless to be in safe and sheltered locations so they can receive services. This wasn’t happening under the public camping ordinance. The city has had two years to address this problem and all they have done is make it worse, while wasting $161 million with almost no new homeless housing to show for it.
Disrespecting the will of the voters in this way is a ‘slap in the face’ of the nearly 91,000 Austinites who demand their city become safe and clean again for everyone.
Additionally, state lawmakers are currently considering proposed statewide public camping rules, sparked by the disaster that’s unfolded in Austin over the past two years. The proposed law currently needs approval in the Texas Senate in the final two and a half weeks of the legislative session.
Despite a potential statewide law, concerned Austinites may still contact City Manager Spencer Cronk at (512)-974-2200. The Austin City Council is up for election in the fall of 2022.