Austin is perhaps as united around an issue as we ever have been. The massive outcry against City Council’s short-sighted homelessness edicts has been loud and persistent, bipartisan and colorblind, and citywide. What City leaders have done has had a shocking effect on our homeless neighbors, and instantly exacerbated a public health and safety cataclysm.
Let’s put aside how this was easily foreseen, as similar rules in other cities have had the exact same result. Why ponder why they did it, as our uniformly progressive Council continues to punch up to gain accolades from their comrades. After months of sad displays and anguished assurances, City Council has somewhat succumbed to public pressure. Or wait, have they?
After hours of emotional testimony Wednesday, on Friday, City Council will consider proposals regarding homeless camping ordinances. There were two competing plans. The first, supported by Council Member Casar (known in inner circles as The Real Mayor of Austin) and Adler, doesn’t actually do anything beyond wordsmithing, drawing support from Mayor Pro Tem Garza and Council Member Harper-Madison, giving the proposal 4 votes – with 6 needed to pass. The other proposal, from Council Members Tovo, Pool, Kitchen, and Alter, would’ve prohibit camping in certain areas of town. By altering the existing rules to favor some areas over others, this proposal bends to those with an effective lobby at City Hall, such as UT Austin, while letting lie those who have chosen to live or work in districts with less representation at City Hall. Other areas, such as parks, creeks, and City Hall, remain exempt from the rules. This proposal, too, came out of the gates with only 4 votes.
Then, on Tuesday, Adler, Casar, Tovo, and Kitchen offered the following and extremely confusing “phased approach.” We have highlighted the areas that will be debated.
Category 1 – Immediately enforceable
- Existing prohibitions on camping, sitting, or lying (passed in June).
- Prohibitions on camping, sitting, or lying at City Hall, parks, watershed protection lands, flood buy-out areas, public transit stops, rail lines, libraries, recreation centers, ceremonial buildings, private property, valet or construction zones.
- Clarifications (Will be debated)
- Camping in culverts or storm drains or banks of a creek or river;
- Obstruction of doorways or 6 foot distance from a doorway;
- Obstruction of infrastructure for those with disabilities;
- Sidewalks, leaving a 4-foot, 5-foot, or an area necessary for safe pedestrian use;
- Specific streets to be considered – Guadalupe, West 24th, Congress Ave, 2nd Street, 5th Street, 6th Street
Category 2 – Enforceable after housing is offered and signage is put up
- Within an areas specified around a shelter/housing center (Will be debated)
- Within one-quarter mile to one-half mile
- Within the area bordered by East 4th Street to the south, Brushy Street on the East, East 11th to the north, and Brazos to the West, excluding the underpasses of IH-35.
- Once the shelter opens, within the area by Manchaca to the east, Lightsey to the North, Redd Street to the south and St. Elmo to the West;
- Camping in a floodplain;
- Camping on medians/traffic islands;
- On sloped areas under highways;
- Will Be Debated – no camping along Rio Grande Ave, San Antonio Ave, San Gabriel Street, Nueces Street, Red River Street
Category 3 – Enforceable only after the City has ended homelessness
- Prohibit camping on sidewalks entirely;
- Prohibit sitting and lying or camping on all high pedestrian and vehicular traffic streets;
- Prohibit camping in all high-risk fire areas;
It seems at this point that mass confusion is the goal. For what it is worth, we would not endorse either original proposal or the compromise position, which in a flurry of words actually accomplishes little. Neither is done in the context of a comprehensive solution to address the homeless problem. It is highly unlikely the City will ever end homelessness, so Category 3 is a moot point. And Category 2 seems impossible to enforce given the condition of having been offered housing. How would we even begin to keep track this?
Spending more taxpayer money and time pretending to do something, and actually doing nothing, is just insulting.