Austin voters to decide on restoring rules criminalizing homeless activities

Summer Wright experienced homelessness on and off for years as a teenager and young adult. At no point would she have benefited from a $500 fine, or having police sweep away her belongings.

“It wouldn’t have urged me into a shelter. It would have urged me further away,” said Wright, a member of the Austin Youth Collective.

But – amid outcry over large, more visible encampments around Texas’s capital city – Austinites are still torn on whether they should use an election on Saturday to reinstate criminal bans on behaviors that are part and parcel of an unhomed existence.

Il national homelessness crisis has become an ideological punching bag in Texas, where lawmakers are also threatening a statewide ban on encampments. E, nearly two years after the Austin city council rolled back rules affecting unsheltered residents, a new ballot measure, Proposition B, would revert to criminalizing camping, panhandling, sitting or lying down on public sidewalks and sleeping outdoors.

“If I’d had this additional trauma and these additional barriers, I won’t say it would have stopped me from being housed ever,” Wright said. “But it definitely would have made the process a lot harder.”

Prop B could subject people who already cannot afford housing to tickets of up to $500, quale would probably go unpaid and lead to arrest warrants.

“The only way you go to jail is if you cannot pay the citation,” said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of the Save Austin Now Pac, the proposition’s chief advocacy group.

“If you are going to camp, the police are going to come up to you and they’re going to say, ‘Camping has now been banned in our city. You have to move.’”

Mackowiak described Prop B as a last-ditch effort to save Austin from becoming a failed city, and he said he wants to be part of the solution for unhomed residents after his campaign wins.

He believes the city council’s recent steps are causing a “nightmare scenario”, disquieting locals who want to comfortably live, work and raise a family.

“This policy is destroying our city, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day," Egli ha detto. “It’s destroying every major intersection. It’s destroying every city park. It’s destroying every neighborhood.

“It’s affecting public safety, public health, the image of our city, tourism, almost every small business, every restaurant, every grocery store, every hotel, every condo building. And that’s not hyperbole.”

From Austin’s Real Estate Council e Chamber of Commerce board of directors to businesses and city-dwellers, Prop B has no dearth of support, evinced by Save Austin Now’s huge pot of donations.

But there’s also a long list of detractors who have admonished the proposition as unethical, inhumane and misguided, including faith leaders, il Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, and the ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s.

“Basically your existence is criminalized, because each night you are ultimately going to be in violation of the law if there’s not enough shelter space,” said Chris Harris, director of the Criminal Justice Project at the non-profit Texas Appleseed.

Canvassers for Prop B have misled the public, selling the idea that their specious solution somehow helps people experiencing homelessness, Ha detto Harris. That delusion, in turn, has convinced voters that a “yes” vote benefits both them and the people being conveniently swept out of sight.

But in reality, warrants and jail time would only make it harder for people to access housing and employment opportunities. And Prop B could especially hurt Black Austinites, who account for only about 8% of the area’s total population ma 35% of people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s really clear that these laws, which will disproportionately [affect] Black people in our community, are just out-and-out wrong. And I hope that more people will get that message so that they are confronted with that choice in a real way,” Harris said.

Prop B also sets up a more adversarial relationship between law enforcement officers and people on the streets, at a time when police misconduct and brutality rank among the country’s greatest afflictions.

That disconnect is especially baffling to Wright, who can’t understand how voters could back the measure, then turn around and say “Black Lives Matter”.

“I don’t know what to make of it, other than people aren’t concerned about police violence towards unhoused people," lei disse.

Wright provided the Guardian with screenshots she had collected, where social media users aired their unwavering support for Prop B. The comments revealed passionate animosity toward unsheltered Austinites – and sometimes a wish to do them harm.

One person wrote they were more excited to vote in favor of the proposition than they had been to oppose the former president, Donald Trump.

Another compared the city’s current policy to letting a 34-year-old son live in their basement and do drugs.

“Can’t wait to not get harassed at every street corner by some hobo,” one user wrote.

“I can’t wait for them to get rounded up,” another replied. “They never obey police.

“Should we start digging mass graves for them?"

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