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

December 12, 2018

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

AUSTIN — Advocates and people experiencing homelessness will hold a press conference outside of City Hall at 6pm on Thursday, December 13 during the last council meeting of 2018 to call on the next council to immediately repeal the local ordinances that criminalize homelessness.

At an October accountability session held by Austin Interfaith, Mayor Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, and District 3 Council-person Renteria pledged that, during their next terms, they would support repeal of at least the bans on sitting, lying down and solicitation (panhandling), and potentially the camping prohibition as well.

The position of these city leaders is backed by a growing coalition of local advocates and a trio of recently released reports which have highlighted the injustice and ineffectiveness of homeless criminalization:

  • The Austin City Auditor’s report from November 2017 detailed how the ordinances created barriers to escaping homelessness and how being ticketed didn’t result in receiving services as intended;

  • A report released by Gathering Ground Theatre and Grassroots Leadership in October illustrated the devastating personal effects of criminalization on people experiencing homelessness locally; and

  • A United Nations report from May on extreme poverty in the United States specifically addressed local laws criminalizing homelessness, proclaiming that “Homelessness on this scale is far from inevitable and reflects political choices to see the solution as law enforcement rather than adequate and accessible low-cost housing, medical treatment, psychological counselling and job training.”

“Due to the lack of available shelter in our city, compliance with these ordinances is literally impossible for thousands of people every day. Enforcement of these ordinances is therefore not only cruel, it wastes vital resources that could be used instead to provide the housing and support services people experiencing homelessness really need.” - Roni Chelben, Gathering Ground Theatre

“The cruelty of these ordinances lies in their targeted application against people experiencing homelessness, some of our city’s most vulnerable members and among those who have been most profoundly harmed by capitalism. The effectiveness of these measures is dubious at best, as the activity they are designed to curtail has clearly not been prevented, particularly downtown. We demand a new approach, as the people being victimized by these ordinances deserve housing as a basic right.” - Marina Roberts, Austin DSA Housing Committee Co-Chair

“In addition to the moral and practical reasons to repeal these ordinances, as the City Auditor noted in a report last November, these ordinances create legal risk for the city. Similar ordinances are currently being challenged in Houston, and Boise’s anti-camping legislation was recently found unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit. The City would be smart to avoid the considerable costs of defending against these lawsuits and potentially having to hastily respond to a court order rather than acting deliberately.” - Emily Gerrick, Texas Fair Defense Project

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. Follow us @Grassroots_News.

Contact: 

Chris Harris, charris@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-897-0703