AUSTIN, Texas — This week, state and federal elected officials in Texas have been weighing in on Austin’s ordinance affecting homelessness. Thursday, Police Chief Brian Manley suggested that while police officials are not on board entirely with the current camping rules, they are finding ways to enforce the law. At a news conference, he announced a new set of directives for officers to follow.
- Austin Police Chief Brian Manley addresses homelessness
- Recommends old ordinances be adopted until situation can be straightened out
- Gov. Abbott Wednesday demanded action from mayor and Austin City Council
“I know it doesn't necessarily meet the political will of our mayor and council right now, as the police chief charged with maintaining public safety, I have suggested that we put the old ordinances back in place while we work through a final solution,” Manley said. “I have suggested that we make all sidewalks in the downtown area a place where camping and obstructing is prohibited.”
But until Austin City Council members consider or take action on any camping restrictions, police still have to work out to how to address the current relaxed rules. While Austin’s ordinance largely allows camping and lying, it still prevents people from doing so in a way that blocks sidewalks entirely or endangers the health and safety of others. Manley asserted that officers will not be using a tape measure to look at determining clearance on sidewalks and roadways.
Manley said it will be a violation if a pedestrian has to step off the sidewalk or over someone and their belongings; if camping prevents people from entering or leaving businesses or residences; if people in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller cannot navigate the sidewalk; and if people cannot navigate the sidewalk in a straight line and do so in a “zigzag fashion.” He added that police will also begin enforcement in areas that are close to roadways or areas that are prone to flooding.
“We see a lot of individuals who were living off the grid, living out in the woods, living out of sight, have now moved into public space, onto, sidewalks under bridges, because they can, because the changes to the ordinances allow them to do that. As a result of that, we're seeing more interactions between community members and homeless individuals, and we're getting a lot more calls for service based on that,” Manley said.
Manley also warned residents not to provide furniture or mattresses to those living without shelter, because it is considered illegal dumping. He said police will be working with Austin Resource Recovery to remove furniture in certain public spaces, because they can pose health hazards.
The announcement comes a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened state intervention if Austin City Council members do not make big changes to the camping rules. Manley said while they have not yet specifically asked for additional resources to address this public issue, it does not mean they will not ask for it in the future, considering they constantly think about the need for increased staffing.
In a statement to Spectrum News regarding Manley’s announcement, Mayor Steve Adler said: “All of our jobs would be easier, mine included, if we merely pushed people back into hiding. But ending homelessness is hard. It’s also something we can achieve and will ultimately make our city safer. Importantly, today the chief reaffirmed his ability to enforce all laws that prohibit the behaviors we’re hearing about, like urinating, defecating, and using and leaving needles in public. The chief will get all the resources he needs to get the job done."