Austin, TX

Austin, TX Residents Vote to Ban the Homeless from Camping, Sleeping, and Lying Down

Carol Lennox

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Homeless man sitting on the street panhandling.Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

On May 1, 2021, the residents of Austin, TX voted to bring back a camping and aggressive panhandling ban. The measure passed 57.1% to 42.9%. Voter turnout was the highest in Travis County for a May election since 1994.

The bans states that lying on the sidewalk or sleeping in downtown Austin is now a misdemeanor. It also bans camping throughout the city except in places designated as camping areas by the State of Texas' Parks and Recreation department. The reinstated ban is intended to clear out the tent cities that have proliferated in Austin, TX since the mayor and city council lifted the original ban in July 2019 without a referendum.

As indicated by turnout and the closeness of the vote to pass the measure, some people who voted struggled with the decision, while others were adamant from the beginning that the ban had to be reinstated. Save Austin Now, co-founded by Matt Mckowiak, who is also chair of the Travis County Republican Party, originally raised $1.25 million to place the referendum on the ballot and for publicity to vote for what became Proposition B. Donations rose to $1.75 million immediately prior to the election.

On his Twitter account Mackowiak posted, "Tonight's decisive win for @saveaustinnow is a clear message to @MayorAdler and @GregCasar that. a majority of Austinites will no longer tolerate failed policies that harm standard of living.

For those who struggled to decide how to vote, the issue was how to address the homelessness that had come out of hiding and brought unavoidable recognition of the issue to the general public. While aggressive panhandling had been a concern for most Austin residents over the last several years, we seldom witnessed tents or home made structures where the homeless lived. They were visible lying on benches and sleeping downtown, but in fewer numbers, and generally outside a shelter or the Austin Recreation Center where they were allowed to shower.

Proliferation of the tent cities currently mean most underpasses in Austin have camping sites with up to thirty or more tents at any given time. Several fires have been started in the camps that have endangered lives of the campers and the people driving on the overpasses. One overpass was damaged by fire and had to be shut down to be repaired. That overpass is located at the major exit of Highway 290 onto Highway 35 where it diverges to enter downtown Austin north, and to lead to San Antonio, TX south. That area consistently experiences high levels of traffic.

The stark visibility of homelessness made it possible for Save Austin Now to raise money to push for reinstatement of the ban. It became clear to residents that the issue of people needing housing was much more urgent than they had previously known.

It is the hope of Mayor Adler and Austin City Council member Greg Casar that the heightened awareness of the issue will aid in solutions. The city of Austin already has plans to house approximately 3,000 people by 2023.

Not-for-profit programs such as Mobile Loaves and Fishes and Community First!, a community of tiny houses, will continue their efforts to house the homeless, with Community First! building tiny houses for an additional 1,400 people experiencing homelessness by Fall of 2022. The community currently consists of 500 homes, a community garden, and chapel, and a gift shop.

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My purpose is to inspire and inform. You can read more by me on Medium.com/@carollennox, and on the Good Men Project. I've had a lifetime of valuable experiences, and I want to share the lessons I've learned readily, or been forced to learn. I'm a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist, a mother to my amazing son, Blake Scott, whom I write about often. I also write about race, equality, social justice, sex, government, and Mindfulness, not in that order.

Austin, TX
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