Skip to Content
Texas Politics

Statewide ban on homeless encampments approved by Texas Senate

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Senate has approved a bill to ban homeless encampments throughout Texas — a response to the city of Austin lifting a similar local ban two years ago that was recently reinstated by voters.

House Bill 1925 would make camping in an unapproved public place a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. The bill calls for law enforcement officers to redirect homeless people to available local resources — such as shelters or nonprofit groups — “before or at the time” they issue a citation.

The House approved the bill earlier this month. The Senate passed the bill, along with two amendments, Thursday and sent the bill back to the House, which can either accept the amendments and send it to the governor or send it to a conference committee to work out the chambers’ differences.

Immediately after the vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the bill passed 28-3, but the Senate journal later reported the vote was 27-4.

If the bill becomes law, it will mark the latest instance of the Republican-led state government overruling local ordinances.

Cities cannot opt out of the ban, but it allows for existing local ordinances that prohibit public camping to remain in place.

The law comes after 57% of Austin residents voted to reinstate the city’s ban earlier this month, two years after it was lifted by the city council, a move that critics say triggered the proliferation of tent cities throughout the city. Some 10,000 people are estimated to have experienced homelessness in the last year within the city.

Abbott has denounced the Austin City Council’s decision to lift the ban and asked the Legislature to withhold state grant money from cities that don’t ban such encampments.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, — who authored the Senate’s companion bill — said the bill is a “first step” to addressing homelessness in the state and that it bans people from turning public property into private property by erecting a shelter in a public space and engaging in activities like cooking, making a fire, storing personal belongings for an extended period, digging or sleeping. The bill outlines exceptions for recreational camping and camping on beaches.

Lawmakers said they hope the bill will direct homeless people to resources that can help them out of homelessness. State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, called it the “humanitarian bill of the session.”

Senators adopted two amendments Thursday to ban cities from turning parks into encampments and to strike the word “arrest” from the bill — an attempt to clarify that the bill is not meant to put people in jail.

State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, the only senator to speak against the bill on Thursday, said she thinks it does too little to support the homeless population in Texas.

“I understand the desire of this body to send a strong message to the city of Austin,” Eckhardt said. “I will not defend the city of Austin for lifting a camping ban without a plan, because it did not help these poor people find their way to a home. But also I cannot support a statewide camping ban that does very little to help these poor people find their way to a home.”

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said he hopes a statewide encampment ban will connect more people to resources and places that afford them more dignity.

“Having people live under bridges is not humane. Having people experience all of their bodily functions out in public is not humane,” Menéndez said. “It's not right.”

He mentioned Haven For Hope, a 20-acre community and shelter in Bexar County that offers housing, health care and other services for people experiencing homelessness. Menéndez said the organization previously testified in favor of the bill because officials believed it would help them get more people to the shelter.

“I believe that we need to send a message that we cannot just say it's OK to sleep wherever you want, and then we can forget about you,” he said. “We are not helping homeless people by putting them in a tent, we have to provide services for them, we have to treat them like human beings.”

But Eric Samuels, president and CEO of the Texas Homeless Network, said a statewide ban would cause people experiencing homelessness to become more invisible, damage trust between them and law enforcement and impose fines on one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

“I've never seen any city, anywhere in the country that has reduced homelessness because they have banned camping,” Samuels said. “In fact I would argue that in a lot of cases it's helped increase homelessness because if people have criminal histories ... that all builds up, and that will place an enormous barrier on someone who is trying to escape homelessness.”

News / Politics / Texas / Video

Texas Tribune

JC Navarrete

El Paso native JC Navarrete co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend newscasts and reports during the week.

KVIA ABC-7

Comments

10 Comments

  1. There are so many shelters that are funded by good people and volunteer their time to work at. The campers need to be told to use them or get out of Dodge. And with so many jobs available there is no excuse for them not to get back on their feet. Put the drugs and booze down and get off your butts. I really hope EPPD enforces this new mandate. If there’s 24oz Bud cans laying around those people are breaking the law. Boot them! El Paso, Santa Fe and Oregon streets down by the Border Hwy is disgusting. We dont deserve to have to live among that.

  2. Another useless law promulgated by useless Republicans like the abortion ban nobody will obey. Shouldn’t the legislature be working on disbanding ERCOT and joining the national grids to avoid another winter fiasco and disaster? What are they doing about expanding Medicaid? Are they going to do anything that actually helps Texans?

    1. Hey nitwit. The voters in Texas support these actions therefore the legislation and eventual law. Austin is a prime example of failed liberal policies disapproved of by the voters. BTW – If you don’t like red state Texas then move your rear end out. Blue state Commiefornia is waiting for you. BTW – You never answered my question: Was Donald Trump your President from 2016 – 2020?

      1. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. Its economy is booming and they even have some restaurants that won’t serve Republicans. Nice town. Rent is too high though as are real estate prices.

        1. Hey Turner you still haven’t answered my question posed to you a few days ago. Was Donald Trump your President from 2016 – 2020?

          1. He won’t. He can’t handle facts and he can’t handle the truth. If you back him into a corner and he can’t respond with his CNN leftist propoganda or he can’t respond with his go too liberal sheep “racist” or “nazi” comment then he won’t respond. The man is an uninformed buffoon.

Leave a Reply

Skip to content