Turf wars : who supported measures to criminalize homelessness in Austin, Texas? (1991-2021)




Bompiedi, Alaina M.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This professional report seeks to explain the motivations that inspired a group of stakeholders in Austin, Texas to create and maintain ordinances aimed at criminalizing actions related to homelessness. Historical analysis is used to track the trajectory of political arguments used to support criminalization measures and identify the makeup of stakeholder groups that backed bans on camping, sitting, and lying. Geospatial analyses are used to analyze the relationship between certain demographic characteristics of Austin’s election precincts and the distribution of voter support for Proposition B, a 2021 ordinance aimed at reinstating the City’s anti-homeless ordinances after their repeal in 2019. I find that early political arguments about the merit of the ordinances often boiled down to their effectiveness as a means to control the aesthetic of Austin’s downtown streetscape and allay concerns about public safety. These reasons bellied an ulterior motive for Austin’s downtown business coalition, which was to protect the interests of downtown Austin’s business- and property-owners and attract new development to downtown Austin. A populist movement that sought voter approval of stricter anti-homeless laws from 2019-2021, Save Austin Now, appealed to residents outside of downtown Austin by invoking arguments about public safety, cleanliness and order, and even by claiming that the ordinances were necessary to maintain a level of dignity for Austin’s homeless population. I find that while voters who supported anti-homeless measures in 2021 were more diverse than expected, most of the political power that supported the movement came from downtown Austin.


LCSH Subject Headings