Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation on June 15 enforcing a statewide camping ban. HB1925 will ban encampments in all public areas. Local governments can choose to designate space on government-owned properties for people experiencing homelessness, but these must first be proposed to and approved by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). The bill will go into effect on September 1, 2021.
The ban would charge individuals camping outside of designated areas with a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500. Cities must comply with the ban and cannot adopt any policy that “prohibits or discourages the enforcement of any public camping ban.” The law frames these requirements as the minimum threshold, and cities are allowed to enforce stricter camping measures.
The legislation mandates that local governments submit requests to TDHCA for designated campsites that meet all the following criteria:
- Availability of health care, including access to Medicaid services and mental health services
- Availability of indigent services
- Availability of “reasonably affordable” public transportation
- Local law enforcement resources
- Mental health coordination
TDHCA must respond to applications for new campsites within 30 days. The legislation comes after a similar proposition passed in Austin, Proposition B, making it a Class C misdemeanor to “sit, lie down, or camp in public areas and prohibiting solicitation of money or other things of value at specific hours and locations.” Proposition B, passed in May and was endorsed by the governor.
The legislation was criticized by homelessness advocates who stated that the camping ban will not alleviate homelessness, and that the potential fine for camping could lead to arrests for repeated offenses or an inability to pay which would create further barriers to exiting homelessness. In addition, the requirement for TDHCA to process new campsite applications is likely to be a costly burden on an already strained housing and community affairs department.
“This law seeks to push Texans experiencing homelessness out of sight. And, if they don't comply with the ban, it criminalizes their living condition,” said Eric Samuels, president and CEO of the Texas Homeless Network (an NLIHC state partner). “Criminalizing homelessness creates barriers for individuals and families seeking housing; it does nothing to reduce it. The only way communities have succeeded in making homelessness rare, brief, and a one-time event is through collaborative planning and investment in deeply affordable and supportive housing,”