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Austin's police chief says new homeless laws will "fundamentally change" enforcement

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Austin's police chief says three new homeless ordinances are about to "fundamentally change" the department's enforcement. Early Friday morning the Austin City Council voted to rescind the homeless camping ban changing the city’s approach to dealing with homelessness.

The city's ban on sitting, lying down and camping in public spaces is being replaced with new ordinances that change how police can respond to calls from the public.

“If we receive a call from a business owner or from a citizen involving an individual that may be sitting or lying in a public space, whether it be in front of a business or on a public thoroughfare, we would have to be able to prove that conduct poses a hazard or a danger to someone,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.

Friday afternoon, Chief Manley said the wide sidewalks on Congress Avenue and around the UT campus and entertainment district are an example of where enforcement will change.

“There may be opportunities now for individuals to erect a structure or a tent or some type of protection in spaces where before that would not have been allowed,” said Manley.

As long as the public could safely get around the tents, the structures would not violate the new ordinances.

“I am thrilled,” said Rabbi Alan Freedman.

The Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in West Austin says the changes decriminalize being homeless.

“They found a way to revamp these ordinances so that people who are homeless are not being arrested simply for being homeless,” said Rabbi Freedman.

Austin Interfaith thinks this is the first step toward establishing a holistic and well-rounded approach to addressing homelessness.

“I think our police, in particular, have clearer direction as to what is inappropriate or illegal behavior which endangers public safety and public health and that works better for all of us,” said Rabbi Freedman.

Chief Manley says under the previous ordinances officers issued fewer than five citations a day and made very few arrests. The officers counted on voluntary compliance, which APD says in some situations will no longer be an option.

“Officers will not go up to someone who is just sitting or lying or camping if the behavior is not hazardous or dangerous. So, the opportunities for officers to gain that voluntary compliance in many of these situations where we were, will not be available,” said Chief Manley.

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The changes go into effect in 10 days.

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