Prop B Seeks to Ban Camping and Soliciting
By Libby Cohen
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — One item on the ballot for many Travis County voters in the May 1 special election seeks to ban people from camping and soliciting money on public streets in Austin.
Supporters of Proposition B say it will make the city a safer place for the housed and the unhoused. Opponents argue that the proposition criminalizes camping.
Howie, an unhoused man who did not give his last name, lives near Town Lake. He has lived on the streets of Austin for 12 years. He suffers from COPD and relies on help from strangers to pay for medicine.
“(Prop B) would impact me very much because I solicit money on the street,” Howie said.
He described his living condition as “really tough.” If Prop B passes, a fine of up to $500 could set him back from getting the essentials he needs.
Prop B supporters include organizations like Save Austin Now, a political action committee, and SafeHorns, a safety organization for University of Texas at Austin students.
Joell McNew, the SafeHorns president and a board member of Save Austin Now, said passing Prop B is a fight for a safer Austin, not an attack on the unhoused.
“We know it’s not a crime to be homeless, and really what we believe is the inhumane conditions occurring right now all over our city are not helping anyone,” McNew said.
Activists for the unhoused argue the opposite.
Austin Mutual Aid founder Bobby Cooper visits camps across the city every week. He said the issue is personal as he too faced homelessness at a young age.
“(The unhoused) are really concerned about having their whole life abandoned. That’s really what the city sweeps do and that’s what Prop B would do. It literally increases homelessness. It’s such a knee jerk, dehumanizing, stupid plan,” Cooper said.
Cooper said Austin Mutual Aid supports organizations that house groups of five to ten people. He believes these responses are more beneficial than Prop B.
“If these grassroots groups that we’re working with can house dozens and dozens of folks and change their lives, the city can do that,” Cooper said.
As homelessness is a complex issue, he said there needs to be dynamic solutions for the many associated problems such as mental health services, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, and employment opportunities.
He encouraged housed Austinites to begin to see their fellow unhoused neighbors more as people and less like problems.
“The solution is getting more profiles, getting more faces out there, getting the voices of the unhoused out there, so people can see that these are human beings, and to have more of these conversations between house and unhoused folks,” Cooper says.
Howie anxiously awaits the outcome of the Prop B vote and hopes Austinites can see past his current living situation.
“It makes me feel like an animal with the criminalizing. All that means is that they want to put you in jail. And what does that say, it criminalizes you actually,” Howie said.
Austin voters can find information about voting locations and sample ballots on the Travis County Clerk’s website.