UPDATE: Overnight, the Austin City Council voted to approve changes to soliciting, camping, sitting, or lying down laws.
That means Austin Police will only be allowed to ticket or arrest a person who is soliciting, camping, sitting, or lying in a public space if they are a public health or safety hazard or blocking a walkway.
A showdown at Austin City Hall Thursday night will decide the future of the city's ban on sitting, lying down and camping in public spaces.
The Homes Not Handcuffs coalition staged a rally demanding that the Austin City Council vote to decriminalize homelessness.
Council members delayed the vote a few weeks to give both sides time to fine tune the ordinances. The Homes Not Handcuffs coalition thinks they have a workable compromise. But the Downtown Austin Alliance thinks the changes still make it too easy for the homeless to camp out on sidewalks and in public spaces.
Austin's ban on sitting, lying down or camping in public spaces is being challenged.
"It's time to decriminalize homelessness in Austin," said Holly Kirby with Grassroots Leadership.
Grassroots Leadership is part of the Homes Not Handcuffs coalition.
"Stop locking up our homeless community," said Kirby.
She says the proposed changes to the ban would reduce criminal charges the homeless receive for just trying to survive on the streets.
"We have laws on the books that currently ban sleeping outside, sitting outside, camping, asking for money. They are unavoidable behaviors for folks who have to live on the streets and it's time we put a stop to it," said Kirby.
The proposed changes mean Austin police could only arrest or ticket someone if they are endangering the health or safety of another person or if they make a public space unusable. Simply camping or sitting or lying on the sidewalk would not be a punishable offense.
"Aggressive panhandling, illegal camping and people sitting and lying on the sidewalks in downtown Austin are already significant problems for us. We want to avoid unintended consequences," said Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance.
The DAA wants Thursday's vote pushed back a month or two. The DAA thinks downtown businesses and residents need more time to evaluate the impact of the new ordinance and come up with solutions that give the homeless adequate opportunities to sleep, use the restroom and bathe.
"We need more shelter now in this city so that people don't have to camp outside and aren't forced to sleep on our streets," said Brice.
The Downtown Austin Alliance wants the vote pushed back to August. The council is expected to decide what action to take Thursday evening.