Naked City

No Doorways, No Beds

By a 4-3 vote last Thursday, the City Council passed an ordinance that makes sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks "in a manner that would hinder the unobstructed passage of a person" a Class C misdemeanor. Since the ordinance was first debated in May, Council Members Danny Thomas, Beverly Griffith, and Raul Alvarez have consistently voted against it -- calling for a more comprehensive plan to resolve homelessness. "We need a greater level of resources for our homeless population before we start taking action limiting their activities," Alvarez says.

Starting on Oct. 22, APD officers will warn individuals when they are in violation of the ordinance, but will issue citations only to people who refuse to move out of the public right-of-way. APD Commander Harold Piatt, who oversees downtown patrols, says, "the truth is, I'll be surprised if we issue more than 20 citations between now and Christmas." Offenders in nuisance crimes respond to warnings "99% of the time," he says.

In some circumstances, officers will suggest that offenders go to shelters. "If it's eleven at night, I think almost certainly that an officer is going to give that individual somewhere else to go," Piatt says. However, Austin's homeless population -- an estimated 4,000 people -- must contend for fewer than 500 shelter beds. The ordinance does not address that problem.

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