AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin’s new restrictions to camping, sitting, and lying went into effect Monday, after city council members approved the revisions earlier this month in a 7-4 vote. The changes come after months of heated discussion about the criminalization of homelessness. 

The revised ordinance prohibits: 

  • Camping on all sidewalks 
  • Camping, sitting, and lying within 15 feet of an entrance to a resident or business during operation hours
  • Camping, sitting, and lying around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and the Salvation Army Downtown, bordered by East Fourth Street, South Bound I-35 Frontage Road, East 11th Street, and Brazos Street
  • Camping, sitting, and lying within a quarter mile of an operating homeless shelter outside of the Central Business District 
  • Camping in a high wildfire risk area

The ordinance also prohibits camping in an area that is “materially endangering the health and safety of another person or of themselves” or is “intentionally, knowingly, or reckless rendering impassable or impeding the reasonable use of a public area making usage of such area unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.”

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Even though the ordinance may not necessarily name restrictions to camping along flood prone areas or busy roads, Austin police do have the authority to enforce the rules in places they believe is a threat to health or safety. 

Craig Staley, the owner of Royal Blue Grocery, said the sidewalk to his Congress Avenue store is wide enough for people to continue sitting and lying, so he believes the revised rules do not make a big impact. 

“A lot more needs to now be done to help the homeless. Our city needs to give these folks options that are better than sitting on the sidewalk and waiting for handouts,” Staley said. 

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In recent months, Staley has seen a decrease in business at that downtown location because of the behavior of those who are sitting or panhandling in the area. 

“Sometimes it’s aggressive, sometimes you’re not sure what you’re going to get, because of either drug use or the mental instability of some of these folks on the street, and that’s where I see the real need is. We need some mental health care for these folks right away,” Staley said. 

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Curtis Schneider, who has been living on the streets of Austin for the past four years, said he found out about the revised rules from reading the newspaper. 

“The homeless got to have a place to go before anything can be done. We all got to have a place to go, every last one of us. Somewhere safe, somewhere out of the rain, and somewhere out of the cold,” he said. 

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The 27-year-old said while he is on waiting lists for housing and case management, he is left wondering where to sleep with these new rules in place. 

“I’m looking around right now for a good safe place. It’s been a hard four years out here, it’s been a journey and a half, and it’s still going to be a long journey to come,” he said. ​

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