Homeless advocates organize against petition to reinstate anti-camping laws

March 18, 2020
Austin Monitor

The coalition of community groups that pushed for the city to decriminalize homelessness last summer has organized opposition to a petition drive that seeks to reverse the ordinance change via referendum.

The Homes Not Handcuffs Coalition, which includes the Texas ACLU, Front Steps and the Austin Lawyers Guild among its members, is mounting a public education campaign against Save Austin Now’s petition drive. The petition drive, which was launched last month, seeks to reinstate the previous ban on homeless camping; reinstate the no-sit/no-lie ordinance with an extension of the prohibited area to include the University of Texas campus; and ban panhandling citywide from 7 p.m.-7 a.m.

Homes Not Handcuffs had planned to hold a press conference on March 9, but that event was canceled as attention turned to the city’s efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Chris Harris, a campaign coordinator for Texas Appleseed, said the coalition feels the city should direct resources to placing those experiencing homelessness into housing rather than punishing them.

“At this point it’s about community education and making sure folks understand that these laws that were in place before didn’t make us safer, and with them being repealed there’s no evidence of any increase in crime, and it’s more important to spend our limited resources to house folks rather police, ticket, arrest and jail folks for these issues,” he said. “What’s being proposed won’t actually help with homelessness but will drive it underground again at great cost to our city and most marginalized community members.”