Austin Needs Homes Not Handcuffs

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After over a year of community pressure led by the #HomesNotHandcuffs coalition, Austin City Council voted on June 21 to end the criminalization of homelessness in our city! But, our work doesn't end here.

City of Austin: Questions and Answers about the revised ordinances

Before these changes were made, many of our homeless neighbors were forced into hiding. Most people had no choice but to sleep in the woods, in waterways, or other dangerous locations. After the ordinances changed, we’ve seen more and more people sleeping in public across the city.

This has caused a lot of anti-homeless backlash, including attacks on our homeless neighbors. The majority of the conversation seems to be directed at the public resentment of people being more visible than they had been before.

So, why were these changes made?

  • Criminalizing everyday behaviors meant people in poverty were being fined with tickets they couldn’t pay.

  • A majority of those unpaid tickets turned into arrest warrants.

  • Having an arrest warrant on your record makes it difficult – if not impossible – to get a job, housing, or receive necessary services to get back on your feet.
    This created a lose-lose cycle for anyone without a house. These barriers made addressing the root causes of the issue much harder to treat.

When rents are high and wages are low, so many Austinites are walking a financial tightrope every day. The most common causes of homelessness are job loss and evictions, and a majority of people experiencing homelessness live on the street for 2 years or less. When people are struggling to get by, tickets for sitting, sleeping, or asking for help can make the difference between being homeless for a few days, a few months, or a few years.

We as Homes Not Handcuffs believe we need to make things as easy as possible for people to get back on their feet. Changing these ordinances won’t solve homelessness, but criminalizing the everyday needs of our homeless neighbors was making matters much worse.

Adjusting these ordinances to focus on dangerous or unsafe activity means we can focus our limited resources on real solutions, not just band-aids or blindfolds. Eliminating the barriers caused by ticketing the homeless means more children and families will be able to be housed, fed, and receive services.

But our work doesn’t end here. Now is the time to push for real solutions. We must build more shelters, more affordable housing, and increasing funding to mental health services and safety net programs. Now is the time to move forward and address this issue head-on, not push our most vulnerable back into hiding simply because we don’t want to see them.

Now is the time for homes, not handcuffs.

Read: Sign On Letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Austin City Council in Favor of Repealing Ordinances That Criminalize Homelessness

Read the Report here: Homes Not Handcuffs: How Austin Criminalizes Homelessness

Related Posts

BREAKING: Austin City Council takes steps to decriminalize homelessness, advocates say the fight continues

AUSTIN, TX — The Austin City Council voted early Friday morning in favor of Item 185, ending the criminalization for some unavoidable behaviors associated with extreme poverty and homelessness.

The measure modifies Austin’s ordinances criminalizing sitting and lying down and camping unless the activity endangers the health and safety of the individual or the public.   [node:read-more:link]

May 9, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Women’s Jail Closer to Funding

The Travis County Commissioners Court voted last week to issue a debt package that includes initial funding for a new women's jail – despite the objections of justice advocates who, for more than a year, have identified the proposed facility as a troubling move away from efforts to decrease incarceration in Travis County.

Several Travis County agencies, along with the Austin City Council and groups such as Grassroots Leadership, have embraced programs and policies aimed at reducing jail bookings for minor offenses such as driving with an invalid license, public intoxication, and marijuana possession. This is in part a budget measure – incarceration costs to taxpayers will grow $10 million this year over 2018 – but also reflects the community's commitment to restorative justice.

These strategies seem to be making a difference; female bookings for misdemeanors are down 24% since 2016, and 2019's average overall daily population is the lowest it's been in six years. That's what makes the Commis­sion­ers Court's move to fund a new jail for women inmates controversial and why the county responded to advocate concerns and held off on funding last year. But on April 23 the court put the jail, currently budgeted at more than $80 million, back on the list of projects to be funded by certificates of obligation; then on April 30, commissioners voted to issue the CO package, with $6.6 million in design and pre-construction funding. [node:read-more:link]

ADVISORY: Growing Coalition Calls on Next Austin City Council to Stop Criminalizing Homelessness

For immediate release: December 12, 2018
Contact: Chris Harris,, 512-897-0703

Recent pledges from re-elected council members and a trio of recent reports build momentum for repeal of Austin’s anti-homeless ordinances in 2019

WHAT: Press conference
WHO: Austin DSA, Grassroots Leadership, Gathering Ground Theatre, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Texas Appleseed, Texas Fair Defense Project, The Challenger, Trinity Center, University United Methodist Church
WHEN:   Thursday, December 13 at 6pm
WHERE: Austin City Hall, 301 W. 2nd St., Austin, Texas [node:read-more:link]