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