- What is Austin doing to enforce the camping ordinance?
Managing public spaces requires balancing the interests of all Austinites, including those experiencing homelessness. Austin Police Department (APD) is the lead department responsible for enforcing the ordinance, but clean up and closure of encampments is a joint effort. Multiple City of Austin departments and community groups work together to handle closures. Over 100 encampments have been the subject of enforcement since August of 2021. Get more information about the camping ordinance provisions and enforcement process.
In select sites, the City’s Housing-focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) Initiative offers encampment occupants direct access to bridge shelter as well as longer-term housing resources.
- Why are some encampments allowed to continue and others closed?
There are currently hundreds of encampments occupying public spaces. City of Austin departments work together when responding to each encampment site. When determining interventions, the homeless encampment team prioritizes safety and health while also considering impacts to infrastructure, property, and environmental health. They consider the following factors when doing so:
- Minors or pregnant women
- Fire hazard/ Fire risk and other natural hazards
- Proximity to schools
- Available resources (human resources, equipment, staffing, and coordination)
- Size of an encampment
- Criminal activity
- How do I report an encampment?
Please contact Austin 3-1-1 to create a report which will be assigned to the appropriate department. You can also download the Austin 3-1-1 app and submit your report. You will be provided a service request number and the request will be assigned to the correct department. The department will then work to determine prioritization.
There are more encampments on public spaces than can be addressed immediately. Due to the high number of encampments in Austin, along with the complexity connected to closure and cleanup, sites with higher prioritization are addressed first. Sites with lower public safety risk will be cleaned and closed after high prioritization sites are addressed.
We thank you for your patience.
- What can I expect after I report an encampment to 311?
Each report is assigned to the correct team. Staff visits the site, speaks with individuals at the encampment, and connects them to any available support services. They explain to the individual that camping in public spaces and parkland is illegal and work to seek voluntary compliance.
Staff then assign a response level to determine priority for cleanup and closure. Encampments that create an immediate public health and safety threat take precedence.
Please keep in mind that Austin has a high number of encampments throughout the community and limited resources available for enforcement, cleanup, and closure. When a site is scheduled for cleanup and closure, staff works with partnering organizations to alert individuals at the encampment that cleaning and closure will occur, provides information on available supportive services, and asks them to move from the area before the cleaning and closure process begins.
Staff posts signs at least 72 hours before the cleaning and closure so that people have notice of when the cleanup is occurring. On park property, staff provides 7 days notice before cleanup occurs.
- Which groups are working on addressing encampments?
Multiple City departments and community groups work together to address homelessness and encampments.
City Departments include:
- Austin Code
- Austin Fire Department
- Austin Parks and Recreation Department
- Austin Police Department
- Austin Public Health, including the Homeless Strategy Division
- Austin Public Library
- Austin Public Works
- Austin Resource Recovery
- Austin/Travis County EMS and the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST)
- Downtown Austin Community Court
- Watershed Protection Department
- What does progressive enforcement mean?
The City of Austin maintains a humane approach towards individuals affected by the ordinance, including those experiencing homelessness.
Persons violating the camping ordinance are provided the opportunity to voluntarily comply by removing their belongings and leaving the area. During enforcement efforts, the Austin Police Department (APD) provides a list of resources to those persons experiencing homelessness which includes information about housing, social services, and free storage services for personal belongings, as program capacity allows. APD typically issues verbal or written warnings for violating the camping ordinance. However, officers may issue citations to individuals who have been previously warned. Again, voluntary compliance is always the preferred goal.
- What happens if the person is issued a citation or ticket?
An officer may act right away if they determine there is a threat to the health or safety of a person. Otherwise, officers follow State Penal Code § 48.05(g). This code requires an officer to make a reasonable effort to do the following before or at the time they issue a citation:
- Provide information about resources or services that may be available to assist;
- Advise the person of any lawful alternative place to camp, if available;*
- Given a reasonable opportunity for voluntary compliance.
*Note that currently there are no alternative places to camp for free. All local area campsites require an admission fee and are intended for recreational camping.
- When will an officer arrest someone for camping?
Camping in a public space is a Class C misdemeanor and does not usually result in an arrest. Achieving voluntary compliance with the law is always preferable to citations or arrest.
Individuals arrested for violating the camping ordinance usually go to the Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC). DACC attempts to have individuals meet with the judge right away and connect them to available services. This can happen during regular business hours.