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‘Why would you do this?’ | Downtown Austin business owner reacts to change in homeless ordinances

The changes restrict Austin police from taking action regarding the ordinances unless they've established the conduct is hazardous or dangerous.

The Austin City Council approved a change to three ordinances which will relax the laws for people dealing with homelessness in Austin.

The changes – which will allow homeless people to loiter if they aren’t aggressive, set up tents if they don’t block passageways and sit or lay down without being pushed along by police – were approved in the early hours of Friday morning.

Bob Woody owns nearly 30 businesses in the Austin area, most of which are restaurants or bars in the entertainment district. He’s not in favor of the changes, suggesting it could impact economic development.

“I think that this type of support should be looked at from the economic community or standpoint of economics in doing business in downtown,” Woody said. “I think that the businesses should look at the council that they have in place and realize the council is going against what business is for.”

Woody said the loosening of the laws might mean Austin’s homeless problem gets worse before it gets better.

“The only positive to this is it will help things get so bad that it becomes a tipping point,” he said. “As soon as the homeless go too far, then maybe we'll come to the reality that their lives need help and it's not taking place in downtown in the entertainment district.”

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But many people are in favor of the changes, as they showed up to rally outside of City Hall on Thursday night. The rally’s closing speaker, David Johnson, also testified before the city council.

On Friday, he took a break after pushing for the change – but not for long.

“It’s all a step in the right direction, so this is a step,” Johnson said. “If we stop and pat ourselves on the back for too long and tell ourselves that this is going to resolve everything, then we're going to find ourselves in a much worse situation."

Advocates said the change was needed to end the criminalization of behaviors that come with being homeless.

"How is it logical to criminalize someone having no place to go, when we as a community have failed to provide those places for them?” Johnson said.

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