After a long night of discussion and citizen input at its Thursday meeting, the Austin City Council took a couple of big steps toward addressing homelessness in the city.
The meeting extended into Friday morning, when, as the Austin American-Statesman reported, it voted to rescinded local ordinances prohibiting sitting or sleeping in public and panhandling. Advocates maintain that prohibiting such activities criminalizes homelessness and makes it more difficult to overcome.
City policies that prohibit sitting, lying down, and camping in public areas will now be enforced only if those activities are causing a safety problem or interfering with the use of public facilities, the Austin Monitor reported Friday. While the prohibition on solicitation/panhandling was repealed, police may still act against any aggressive confrontations.
Exploring safety and service improvements
According to the Monitor, the discussion was in some ways the culmination of a city-led 2017 study “that showed that enforcing the existing policies is neither an effective nor ethical way to address an individual’s need for shelter.”
At the same meeting, the council passed a resolution directing the city manager to look at such measures as providing climate-controlled storage lockers, bathrooms, and laundry facilities to those without shelter; identifying inadvisable or inappropriate places to camp; and collaborating with the University of Texas and central neighborhoods to improve safety measures in those areas.
New homeless shelter approved
On Thursday, the council also unanimously approved a second city homeless shelter to be located in South Austin, KUT reported Thursday. The city allocated $8.6 million to purchase an office building on a 1.66 acre property at 1112 West Ben White Boulevard (Ben White Boulevard and Bannister Lane) for the purpose.
The building will be converted to a 100-bed facility, which could be open by the end of the year.
The Austin Monitor noted in a Friday story that Councilmember Ann Kitchen, who represents the district where the shelter will be, explained that the site would not be a drop-in shelter similar to downtown’s Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Rather, she said, the facility would have clients would be referred to its spaces from the social services network and could be connected quickly with client management.