AUSTIN, Texas — City of Austin leaders held a news conference Tuesday morning to discuss Phase 2 of the City's plan to enforce the newly reinstated camping ban ordinance. City Manager Spencer Cronk, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon and Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey spoke to the media.
Cronk opened the press conference by saying the City is committed to safely and humanely implementing the camping ban ordinance.
"We've been to literally dozens of campsites across the city having these same conversations," said Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, explaining that Austin police district representatives, along with the Homeless Outreach Street Team, have gone out to camps in advance to educate people about the ban.
Since May, during Phase 1, Chacon said Austin Police Department officers and crews with other City departments visited dozens of campsites to provide information to people experiencing homelessness about how the ordinance affects them. Chacon said that in the 30 days of engagement, between May 11 and June 12, 390 warnings were issued and officers engaged with almost 400 people across 70 campsites in the city. Chacon said no citations or arrests were issued in Phase 1.
The City said they have worked to help people comply with the rules while also prioritizing health and safety and connecting people to resources and services.
On Sunday, June 13, Phase 2 of the City's four-phase enforcement plan began. During Phase 2, a 30-day period, Austin police officers can issue written warnings, as well as citations for individuals repeatedly violating the ordinance.
"At this point, we are strongly urging individuals that are in these campsites to downsize their area to the right size for movement and mobility as cleanups of campsites continue," said Chacon.
On Monday, crews began cleaning up and throwing away tents outside Austin City Hall. Some of the tents in the area belonged to people experiencing homelessness, while others belonged to protestors.
"We wanted to be thoughtful about how we interacted with as many people as possible, but this action that was taken yesterday would have happened regardless of what happened on May 1," said City Manager Spencer Cronk, explaining that one of the clean-ups was because of planned construction and the other was due to people camping on private property.
During the cleanup process, seven people were arrested for offenses including interference with public duties and failure to obey a lawful order. Chacon said one person had an active warrant.
Grey said in Tuesday's press conference that the City knew that an initial challenge to the ban would be a lack of adequate shelter capacity or places for unhoused people to go to. She noted that the city council is looking at options such as sanctioned campsites, changing pro-lodges to bridge shelters and more.
Grey said council staff looked at over 70 city properties for a potential sanctioned campsite.
"As we look for an adequate site, that number has been significantly narrowed and that is part of the reason that we are pursuing not only sanctioned encampments but looking at expanded shelter capacity because fundamentally what we want is a place for folks to go," said Grey.
Grey said shelters like the ARCH and Salvation Army are looking at expanding the capacity as COVID risk decreases.
Grey added that more than 300 units of housing for people experiencing homelessness will be coming online over the next few months. She also told the media that there is a concern for the health and safety of people to get out of the heat during the day. She said some daytime resources for those experiencing homelessness include the Trinity Center downtown and the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center.
When Phase 3 begins later this summer, APD officers may start initiating "arrests and/or encampment clearances in situations where compliance has not been achieved after a citation has been issued," the City said.
In May, Austin voters approved Proposition B, which makes it a criminal offense (a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine) for anyone to camp in public areas, sit or lie down in the downtown or University of Texas campus areas or solicit at specific hours and locations.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO READING: