Austin City Council revises homelessness ordinances to limit public camping

Graysen Golter

The Austin City Council approved an ordinance Thursday evening that will reinstate some limits on where people who are homeless can camp.

In June, the council lifted a ban on homeless camping, sitting and lying down in public areas. Over the course of 11 hours at Thursday’s meeting, the council deliberated and more than 30 people spoke on the proposal that would clarify where people who are homeless would not be allowed to publicly camp.

Austin mayor Steve Adler proposed an amended version of the ordinance, which passed 7-4, that bans camping on sidewalks, within 15 feet of business doors and by the Austin Resource Center. 

“For too long, the city has been OK with having homelessness exist in places where we didn’t see it,” Adler said. “I labor over this because I also know that we have shared spaces we’re trying to manage, and when you have shared spaces, you have to make choices. I think that (balance) is going to be what it takes to best serve … the community that’s experiencing homelessness.”

The council did not approve the original version of the proposal by council members Ann Kitchen, Kathie Tovo, Alison Alter and Leslie Pool, which would have also banned camping in places such as high-traffic areas, areas prone to wildfires, and creek beds. 


“Council must help the community move forward past divisiveness by taking these actions now,” Kitchen said in a memo sent Tuesday. “We must refocus our discussion on solutions for our shared goals of housing while we compassionately address the health and safety concerns we hear from neighbors.”

The council indefinitely postponed two other ordinances that identify strategies for connecting people who are homeless with immediate help if possible.

During the meeting, Austin Police chief Brian Manley said he supports limiting public camping on sidewalks. He said there has been an increase in property and violent crime since the June ordinance that expanded where people could publicly camp.

“We do not have a public safety crisis, but we do have an issue with public order,” Manley said. “We know that the encampments … seem to have grown in size and substance … in places where they were not before.” 

Jacob Porter, an associate at the law firm Dechert LLP, said the city should not reverse the June ordinance because it would go back to criminalizing homeless people. 

“Being homeless is not a crime,” Porter said. “The law center thanks the city for these efforts to address the root cause of homelessness through positive, nonpunitive policies.”

Bill Brice, vice president of investor relations at the Downtown Austin Alliance, said the city should ban camping on sidewalks and in areas around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. 

“We believe that this … (is) not only good for downtown but good for the city as a whole,” Brice said. “Today, we have no more alternatives than we did June 20 that provide a real option for someone to go as opposed to camping on the street. It is not humane to allow people to languish on the street until they have a permanent unit.” 

The changes to the ordinance will go into effect on Oct. 27.