AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin says its phased approach to implementing and enforcing the newly-reinstated ban on public camping is well underway.
Since May 11, it has been a Class C misdemeanor for anyone to camp in public areas, sit or lie down in Downtown Austin or around the University of Texas at Austin campus, or panhandle at specific hours and locations.
The City said that, over the past two weeks, Austin Police Department district representatives have visited 42 campsites to educate the homeless community about how the new rules may impact them. This outreach period, under Phase 1 of the City's four-part implementation plan, will continue through June 12.
In addition, by the end of Phase 1, Parks and Recreation Department staff will have visited over 50 priority encampments.
The City said these conversations with people experiencing homelessness include how the new and existing ordinances will impact those individuals and what they can expect from APD. The City said "wherever possible," residents have also been given information about alternative options such as storing personal items and available shelter, and APD has created a resource guide to provide to the homeless community.
"This is a huge endeavor and we are taking it step by step. Enforcement of Prop B continues to be a strategy focusing on compassion and empathy," Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said. "Our goal is to carry out the needs of Austin residents and to work in partnership with all stakeholders to keep the community safe."
Additionally, a number of City departments – including Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Watershed Protection and Austin Resource Recovery – have continued to conduct regularly scheduled cleanings at underpasses, parks and creeks.
Dianna Gray, the City's homeless strategy officer, said City staff are working to identify additional options for emergency shelter or designated encampments and "will not lose sight of the need to create real solutions to help people get back into housing, with the services they need to stay there."
Phase 2 of the City's implementation plan will take place from June 13 to July 10, during which time APD will generally issue written warnings and may issue citations for ordinance violations if they encounter people who have already been warned.
Phase 3 will last from July 11 to Aug. 7. During that time, APD will issue a citation if a written warning has already been issued. However, arrests for ordinance violations will only be utilized in situations where people refuse to vacate areas that have been deemed dangerous for the public, such as areas with a high risk of flooding, fire or pedestrian vs. vehicle crashes.
The final phase, Phase 4, will start on Aug. 8. From that point forward, anyone violating the camping ordinance can be taken into custody if an officer issues a citation and the person doesn't voluntarily leave the area, regardless of whether the area has been deemed dangerous. The City said when APD does arrest someone for violating the camping ordinance, that person will be processed through the Downtown Austin Community Court whenever possible.
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