Tuesday, September 3, 2019 by Andrew Weber

Austin City Council could use e-scooter regulations to limit homeless encampments, memo says

City officials released additional guidelines Friday on how to limit homeless encampments in Austin, including spatial limitations on sidewalks and along waterways. The memo from the city manager and the Homeless Strategy Office is meant to guide the Austin City Council as it rolls out a plan to limit resting and camping in public.

The memo suggests the Council could limit encampments on sidewalks by adopting restrictions similar to current city laws on e-scooter parking, which require at least three feet of passage for pedestrians and vehicles.

“In the same manner that parking micro-mobility devices can obstruct pedestrian traffic, the objects belonging to individuals experiencing homelessness could also obstruct pedestrian traffic,” the memo reads.

Mayor Steve Adler said today that the Council could look to the Austin Transportation Department to map out where camping and resting is prohibited, similar to the way the department bans bikes on sidewalks.

“Those laws already exist. Those sanctions already exist in their place. But yes, I see us being clearer about and widening that to include places where people should not be,” he said. “I have seen people camping and sitting in this city in places that are dangerous, and we need to prevent that.”

Adler said the city could use the map of sidewalks where cycling is banned as a framework, then build out a list of restricted areas.

The memo also suggests Council members look to policies in Berkeley, Calif., which prohibit encampments with a footprint larger than nine square feet. It also recommends limiting encampments in areas with high vehicle and pedestrian traffic, suggesting the city adopt rules that require people camping near roadways to be at a minimum distance – though the memo doesn’t suggest how far away.

As for encampments along waterways, Austin’s Watershed Protection Department suggested to the city manager that the city adopt temporary rules banning camping in historic flood plains. The department says it could fold those limitations into its Atlas 14 flood plain regulations, which it expects to present to Council soon.

Finally, the memo suggests the city develop non-punitive options for police enforcing potential rules limiting where people can camp, sit or lie down in public.

Currently, these activities are not expressly prohibited in Austin unless an individual poses a health or safety risk, completely obstructs a right of way or is on private property or city parkland.

The memo suggests the city engage with the Downtown Austin Community Court and the Homeless Outreach Street Team to divert homeless Austinites into case management, rather than ticket them.

Adler said the city expects to provide specifics on the restrictions in the next few weeks. City Council will act on those suggestions at its meeting on Sept. 19.

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This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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