In liberal Austin, many residents balked at the proposal to ban camping. The Austin American-Statesman was flooded with letters opposing the proposal. “Trespassing on private property already is a crime; every place is either public property or private property, and a law higher than that of city ordinances requires human beings to sleep,” wrote Laurence Eighner, who published a bestselling memoir of homelessness in Austin in 1993. When the ban passed on first reading in July 1995, the council was “met with hisses and shouts from some of the 125 homeless people and their advocates in the audience,” the Statesman reported. Still, in January 1996, the measure became law by a single vote—prompting former Texas Observer editor Molly Ivins to spend a night in a sleeping bag on Congress Avenue in protest.
Within a year, the city council was on the verge of repealing the ordinance. More than 2,000 citations had been issued, but almost no one showed up to court, and all the city had done was shuffle the unhoused around. The policy had “succeeded in moving public camping farther out of sight from the business areas, but the problem has resurfaced in residential neighborhoods … [and] deep within brush and thickets,” reads a 1997 memo from staff to the city council.