Homelessness FAQ

by | Apr 17, 2021

“We’re not saying reinstating the camping ban will fix the problem of homelessness”
– 
co-founder of the group who created the Prop B initiative.

There is a lot of misinformation about Prop B and homelessness in Austin. Please check out our responses to these common misconceptions.

What is Prop B?

  • Prop B seeks to criminalize homelessness. It is one of 8 propositions on the May 1 ballot, with in-person early voting open from April 19 to April 27
  • This prop becomes law if a simple majority votes in favor of it. 
  • Full text is available here.

Who created Prop B?

What does Prop B do?

  • Voting “yes” on Prop B supports making it a criminal offense (Class C misdemeanor punishable by an up to $500 fine) for:
    • Sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in and near the Downtown area and the area around UT campus (no tent required),
    • Asking for money or another thing of value in public areas across the City, or
    • Camping in any public area not designated by the Parks and Rec Department.
  • Voting “no” on Prop B means you oppose making these acts criminal offenses. 

Will Prop B force the City to … ?

  • Provide more trash receptacles, bathroom facilities, mental health services, and job training for people who are unhoused? 
  • Some websites have openly LIED and said that Prop B will force the City to do these things. This is false.
  • If you read the language of the proposition, it does not mention any of these things.

What does Prop B not do?

  • Prop B will not require City Council to address or “solve” homelessness. 
  • Prop B will not provide funding to house the unhoused.
  • Prop B will not provide services for people who are unhoused.
  • Prop B will not reduce our City’s expenditures on people who are unhoused. 
  • Prop B will not provide any trash receptacles, bathroom facilities, mental health services, and job training for people who are unhoused.
  • Prop B will not change the course the city has chosen with the hotel/motel status.
  • Please do not take our word for it and read the language of the petition for yourself.

Why does it seem like there are more people who are unhoused?? 

  • The per capita rate (based on population) of homelessness has actually remained constant for a decade (0.2%). As Austin’s population has grown, so has the number of people who are unhoused (but not in a disproportionate way).
  • Not all people defined as “homeless” are living in encampments. This is but one of the many situations on the homelessness spectrum. There are others living in shelters, inexpensive hotels, and cars, which are often less visible to the public.
  • Ending the “camping ban” did not create homelessness; it simply made people easier to find and count.
  • Austin ECHO is an excellent resource on the demographics and causes of homelessness.

Why is housing such a problem in Austin?

  • There are many reasons why people struggle to find housing in Austin, including:
  • Other problems also contribute to people’s inability to get (and keep) housing:
    • Health care costs rising faster than working class wages
    • Challenges getting/maintaining employment while struggling with physical and/or mental health issues 
    • Prior trauma — 72% of people experiencing homelessness in Austin reported that their homelessness was caused by prior trauma or abuse
    • Systemic inequities in how these issues impact People of Color and the LGBTQ community

What is the city currently doing to end homelessness?

Are most people who are unhoused in Austin coming from elsewhere?

    • Most unhoused people in Austin first experienced homelessness in Austin (63.4%). 
    • Another 19.4% reported another place in Texas as the location. 
    • The out-of-state figure (17.1%) has not changed from last year’s percentage. 
    • It is FALSE that many unhoused people from other states, or even other cities in Texas, are coming to Austin to be homeless.

Why is homelessness a racial inequality issue?

  • Black people in Austin are 4.8 times more likely to be homeless than Austin’s white population. This results from past and present racism and discrimination in our housing, land development codes, health care, education, employment, and criminal justice systems.

Why is homelessness an LGBTQ+ issue?

  • In Austin, about 23% of youth (18-24 years old) experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+, often facing social stigma, discrimination, and rejection from families. LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness are at a heightened risk of violence and abuse compared to their heterosexual peers.

How does policing Prop B affect safety for people who are housed?

  • Passing Prop B will not reduce the size of the homeless population. As a result, any community fears of interacting with people who are homeless will not go away by passing Prop B.
  • As happened previously, people who are unhoused will be located throughout the city in alleys, greenbelts, and anywhere else they can seek refuge, and people who are housed will continue to encounter them in those places.
  • Nothing currently prevents Austin police from approaching and arresting homeless people if they are seen committing a crime.
  • In Austin, the vast majority of violent crime arrests involve a housed person as a suspect (89.95%). For example, “porch pirates” typically use cars, auto thefts are not attributed to people who are homeless, etc. 

How does policing Prop B affect safety for people who are unhoused?

  • According to APD, people who lack housing are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime with a housed person as the suspect, rather than the other way around.
  • It will create further distrust of the city and the Police department which will reduce the likeliness that they seek or accept help from these institutions.
  • For people who are unhoused, sit-lie ordinances and their enforcement often increase risks of sexual assault and psychological harm
  • Having people constantly moving from one location to another is stressful, which can actually lead to increases in conflict among people who are unhoused.

If Prop B passes, what happens next?

  • A similar law existed in Austin from 1997 to 2019. During this time, Austin Police Department wrote tens of thousands of criminal citations to Austinites experiencing homelessness. This did not reduce homelessness. Instead, it increased the problem.
  • When a person receives 1 or more citations (for up to $500 each) and they do not appear in court and cannot pay their citation, these fines can turn into warrants and arrests the next time police make contact. 
  • Jail time for those experiencing homelessness is not a solution, as many of those arrested lose crucial documents and belongings in the process, and the arrest record often perpetuates the cycle of joblessness and distrust of city institutions.

If Prop B fails, what happens next?

  • Austin is in the process of implementing a “Housing First” approach to homelessness. All of Austin’s federally-funded permanent housing programs already follow this model.
  • Housing First prioritizes providing housing to people experiencing homelessness (first) before helping people with other challenges (e.g., mental health, substance use, job training). The Housing First model has been the most effective at housing people quickly and keeping people stably housed for longer than other programs. 
  • The $442 million dollars that are coming into the city can be used to address homelessness.
  • If you want to get involved, the City of Austin is currently working with Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) on homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Here are ECHO’s partner organizations
  • Find out more about successes these organizations have had in Austin.  

Where can I find more information?