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An Austin City Council decision to rescind local prohibitions on sitting or sleeping in most public areas has kicked off a dispute between state and city leaders about the best way to handle homelessness in urban areas in Texas.
The Travis County Republican Party expressed support for state intervention in a news release on Wednesday, titled: "Homeless given more rights than property owners under new camping policy."
"A recent change to city ordinance allowing homeless camps on private property, business frontage, and even public sidewalks has ignited a firestorm from both sides of the political spectrum," the release reads. "It has now become legal in the City of Austin for homeless persons to camp on the front of one's private property or on public rights-of-way in the Capital of Texas."
This is an inaccurate characterization of Austin’s policy, which does not regulate private property. It does allow people to sleep or camp in public areas bordering private property, as long as they do not pose a hazard or aggressively confront others.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the Travis County GOP’s description of the policy is "clearly not true."
"You can’t camp on someone else’s property unless they invite you," he said.
What does Austin’s ordinance actually say?
The new policy makes public camping — except on parkland — legal, as long as a person does not endanger "the health or safety of another person or of themselves" or make "usage of such area unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous."
It also makes it legal for people to sit, sleep or panhandle on public sidewalks as long as they don’t engage in hazardous behavior or actions deemed aggressive.
Police Chief Brian Manley said the new policy will shift the focus of law enforcement from activities to conduct, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
"I think the impact will be more on persons’ perceptions of their own safety and our inability now to act in cases where someone may have erected a structure in front of a business or is sitting or lying in front of someone’s business, but not necessarily being dangerous," Manley said.
Austin Police Association post was source
Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, said the language in the press release should have been more clear.
"We should have said on public property and adjacent to private property," he said in an email.
Andy Hogue, spokesman for the party, said the release was based on a Facebook post from the Austin Police Association explaining the new ordinance.
"If the Austin Police are not clear on the wording (the ones who really need to know), then what about the average Austinite?" Hogue said in an email.
But the information included in the police association’s Facebook post is accurate, since it says that people are allowed to camp or sit on public sidewalks as long as they do not pose a hazard.
In a post dated July 1, the association said police officers are not able to respond to calls from residents about people sleeping on the sidewalk in front of their homes.
"The new obstruction/camping ordinances allow camping on sidewalks, alleyways, and other public places (except parks and City Hall), which includes in front of your house, provided the people camping are not making the sidewalk unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous," the post reads.
A press release from the Travis County Republican Party said that Austin’s new ordinances regulating public camping allow for "homeless camps on private property, business frontage, and even public sidewalks" and that they give more rights to people experiencing homelessness than to property owners.
This is an inaccurate characterization of Austin’s new policies, which only regulate public property. It’s true that individuals are allowed to camp or sleep nearby private property or businesses (as long as they don’t pose a hazard), but they are only allowed to do so on public property.
At the time this piece was published, the party had not corrected the release on its website.
We rate this claim False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
Travis County GOP, Homeless given more rights than property owners under new camping policy, July 3, 2019
City of Austin, ORDINANCE NO. 20190620-185, accessed July 3, 2019
Austin American-Statesman, Heat rises in homelessness debate as City Council eases laws, June 21, 2019
Austin American-Statesman, Abbott threatens to overturn Austin council’s easing of homelessness rules, June 24, 2019
Austin American-Statesman, Car crash claim sparks war of words between Abbott, Adler over homelessness, July 2, 2019
Phone interview with Austin Mayor Steve Adler, July 3, 2019
Email interview with Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, July 3,
Gatehouse, WHY AUSTIN'S HOMELESS PROBLEM CAN'T HIDE IN THE SHADOWS, June 6, 2019
Austin Police Association Facebook post, July 1, 2019
Email interview with Andy Hogue, July 3, 2019
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