Texas law banning homeless camps goes into effect

A state law banning homeless encampments went into effect Sept. 1 in Texas.

House Bill 1925 makes camping in an unapproved public place a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

“I can honestly say that I think every legislator in this building has had a first-degree experience that has been very negative because of the homelessness situation and the danger that is happening on the streets of our city, and, so, we all got together and decided that we really needed to have state policies to affect this,” State Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) said.

Co-sponsors of the bill-turned-law said the legislation was a direct response to the Austin City Council’s decision to lift the city’s camping ban two years ago.

“When you see what’s happening with the homeless population, because of the failed practices of our city council, it’s unsustainable, it’s unacceptable,” Buckingham said.

Cities are unable to opt out or discourage enforcement of the new law. However, cities with camping bans on the books that are equally or more restrictive than state law are not affected. This means that because Austin residents voted to reinstate the city’s camping ban, local laws don’t really change. Still, lawmakers hope the app will.

“I think that’s the only thing that will be enforced in Austin. That’s why we had the state ban. In May, when Austin voters overwhelmingly supported reinstating the ordinances, everyone Everyone looked at me, some of the Democrats in Austin, and said, ‘We don’t need this bill, you know, Austin is fixed.’ And that’s clearly not the case,” Buckingham said.

Other law enforcement agencies, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety, will be able to issue citations under state law.

The Texas Homeless Network said that would only make it harder to get people off the streets.

“If you’re on the streets or in a shelter, you don’t have the capacity to pay that type of fine, so it will go on your record, and if it’s on your record, it follows you when you try to ask assistance or housing,” said THN President and CEO Eric Samuels.

THN believes lawmakers would have a better chance of cleaning up homeless camps by directing available federal funds toward solving homelessness. “I would like to see us focus on solutions to homelessness, rather than banning homelessness and moving people into the shadows and out of sight,” Samuels said.

Lawmakers said the new law would help by directing homeless people to available resources, as officers would have to direct people to shelters and nonprofits whenever they issue citations.

“The police also want to help these people, and it just gives them the tools they need to get these people to make good decisions and get to a place where they can get the help they need,” said said Buckingham.

The law also prohibits cities from using public parks as sanctioned homeless campsites, which Austin city leaders considered doing earlier this year.

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