Austin has long been the focus of the homeless debate, and while there is already a ban on public camping in the city, it begs the question: How will this new state law affect Austin?
Under HB 1925, Texans can face a fine of up to $500 and a Class C misdemeanor if they camp in a public space. The punishment has been the same in Austin.
The law defines camping as residing temporarily in a place with shelter, which includes a tent, tarpaulin, lean-to, sleeping bag, bedroll, blankets or any form of shelter, other than clothing, designed to protect a person from weather conditions that threaten personal health and safety.
An officer or agency can enforce the law by looking for evidence of camping, which includes cooking, making a fire, storing personal belongings for an extended period of time, digging or sleeping. In Austin, the statewide ban means that peace officers outside of the Austin Police Department – for instance, troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety – can enforce the law.
People can only camp if the camping includes camping for recreational purposes or if the property has been approved for sheltering people experiencing homelessness.
Austin's ban is unchanged by the statewide ban. The statewide ban would only preempt Austin's camping ban if the local ban was not as strict as the Texas ban.
Cities such as Austin cannot opt out of the statewide ban.
Of course, here in Austin, we've already been going through the phases of Proposition B. On Aug. 8, Phase 4 of Prop B's enforcement began. Under this phase, Austin police officers can arrest anyone who does not voluntarily leave an area after a citation is issued. Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said at the start of enforcement that he doesn't anticipate an increase in arrests.
The political action committee behind Prop B launched yet another battle with the City of Austin on Aug. 25, filing a lawsuit with the Travis County District Court claiming that the City has failed to fully enforce the homeless camping ban.
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