AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — Changes to the way the City of Austin and its police department will handle homeless people went into effect Monday after the city passed an ordinance largely decriminalizing the act of sitting, laying or camping in public places.
Proponents of the rule change have argued that this will help homeless people break the cycle of homelessness.
David Johnson with Grassroots Leadership said if a homeless person is cited for sleeping in a public place, “you have warrants, you’re arrested, then you lose your belongings because you don’t have a place to store them. Then it creates a cycle where you return to the streets.”
In an email to the police department, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said he told City Council that APD “would be limited in our ability to address many of the quality of life calls we get (and usually handle without citation or arrest) given the new thresholds of hazardous or dangerous.”
The email laid out new guidelines for police officers responding to calls related to homeless people in the city.
Starting Monday, Austin police will only be allowed to arrest or ticket someone who is soliciting, camping, sitting, or lying in a public space if they present a public health or safety hazard, or are blocking a walkway.
Camping on private property or in city parks is still not allowed, but camping in public spaces will be allowed.
APD officers will also have to give a person “notice” if they are violating the new camping rules and give them “reasonable amount of time to cease the violating behavior prior to taking enforcement action.”
Camping at City Hall was banned in 2012 after Occupy Austin protesters refused to leave for months. While that rule continues, for now, City Manager Spencer Cronk has been tasked with identifying safe camping areas and to propose reasonable limitations on camping. City Council will take that issue up in the months to come.
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