Austin city council votes to allow homeless camping on sidewalks...except in front of city hall
Today's prize for lack of self-awareness goes to the Austin, Texas city council. While it is fine and dandy for homeless people to camp out in front of people's homes and businesses, with all the problems of human waste, panhandling, mental illness, and open drug use that we in the Bay Area see whenever we venture to take a walk in San Francisco, the wise councilors exempted their own place of business from the such concerns.
Elizabeth Findell of the Austin Statesman writes:
After emotional testimony last week regarding homelessness in Austin, City Council members rescinded prohibitions on camping on public property. Starting Monday, so long as they are not presenting a hazard or danger, people will be able to sleep, lie and set up tents on city-owned sidewalks, plazas and vacant non-park space.
Except, not in front of City Hall itself.
Austin's mayor engaged in some epic double-talk trying to explain his way out of the obvious hypocrisy:
Mayor Steve Adler said Friday that he does not think the City Hall camping ban should be immediately rescinded. He said it should be reviewed as staffers seek to identify, by August, the places where people should and shouldn't be allowed to camp in Austin. Adler acknowledged that some business owners objected to the ordinance changes out of concern about the impact people camping in front of their businesses could have, but he said they shouldn't consider the City Hall ban to be hypocritical.
"I think the businesses in our community want staff to focus on the broader question in our community regarding where people can and can't camp," he said. "I'm sure included in that discussion will be city properties, properties along Congress and elsewhere in the city. We can't do everything all at once."
Adler would not say whether he thinks the City Hall plaza and amphitheater are appropriate for camping.
"You could come up with a list of 20 different locations and we could go through the list," he said. "The appropriateness of any locations really need to be understood in the context of all the locations."
Whole sidewalks everywhere but city hall are open to people appropriating public property for their own use. The madness does not extend everywhere:
Other areas where camping remains banned include any city park space, under Austin Parks and Recreation rules. That includes downtown green spaces as well as trails and greenbelts such as along Barton Creek.
People who are unable to provide housing for themselves deserve our compassion and assistance, but they do not deserve to take for their own use whatever public spaces they desire. I have long believed that campsites in rural locations, fenced in and featuring tents and basic food such as rice and beans, ought to be available to anyone who declares himself a pauper, indigent, and incapable of self-sufficiency. Basic needs and nothing else are to be provided. Nothing else, for there should be no incentive to let go of personal responsibility and depend on taking the product of others' hard work to live a life of leisure.
This would not be prison, even though there would be walls. Leaving the camp would simply require a declaration of personal autonomy, meaning no need to depend on others for provision of life's necessities.
With that basic safety net in place, camping out on public property can then be banned.
Photo credit: Delwin Steve Campbell.