Austin officials are facing a major backlash after a vote that would permit the city's homeless population to sleep or camp in any public area -- with few exceptions, such as City Hall.
Austin’s City Council repealed a homeless camping ban on June 20, meaning people may now sit, lie down and camp in most public places where they previously wouldn't have legally been able to. The change went into effect Monday.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Friday that wide sidewalks, such as ones on Congress Avenue, are the likely places residents and business owners can expect to see a spike in loitering, KEYE reported.
“There may be opportunities now for individuals to erect a structure or a tent or some type of protection in spaces where before that would not have been allowed,” Manley said.
Assistant Austin Police Chief Justin Newsom said Monday that, as long as the people or structures aren’t “completely blocking the ability for people to pass” or present a “health or safety risk,” then they will be allowed to remain where they are, FOX7 reported.
The change came with few exceptions -- but one notable area where the ban will still be enforced is City Hall, a move the city says it will review and which opponents say is hypocritical at best.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott slammed the local government over the change, threatening to override the new local ordinance.
“If Austin— or any other Texas city—permits camping on city streets it will be yet another local ordinance the State of Texas will override,” he tweeted.
“At some point cities must start putting public safety & common sense first. There are far better solutions for the homeless & citizens.”
Mayor Steve Adler fired back saying the city “remains laser focused on public safety and health,” arguing not every homeless person poses a safety risk and should not be arrested and treated as if they were dangerous.
“We need to be able to tell people not only where they can’t be, but also where they can be. We need places where homeless folks can be safe and surrounded by social workers and others getting them the help and support they need,” he said in a statement.
Adler argued Austin’s plan to address homelessness could serve as “a national model.”
For now, police officers will only be able to arrest or ticket a homeless person if they meet the criteria of being a health or safety risk.