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Daily News Lessons (show all)

One city in Texas criminalizes tent camps used by homeless people

August 27, 2021


This lesson is part of our Searching for Justice series on criminal justice reform.

Amid a housing affordability crisis, cities across the U.S. have been struggling with their unsheltered populations. Two years ago, Austin, Texas, decriminalized activities related to homelessness. But this year, citizens voted to re-criminalize them — as the state banned public camping. For our “Searching for Justice” series, Stephanie Sy reports on what these efforts mean for the unhoused.

SUPER CIVICS tip: State preemption is a good civics term to know. It’s the act of a state government overruling or nullifying measures set up by local municipalities. NewsHour EXTRA recently held an Educator Voice Zoom on this topic, which you can find here. To see where state preemption efforts are in effect, read this article here. In this piece, Austin re-criminalized tent camps, however, even if that action had not been taken, the state legislature in Austin had at the same time banned public camping, preempting any measures taken by local government.

Five Facts

  1. What does it mean to “decriminalize” or “criminalize” activities related to homelessness, according to this piece?
  2. Who are some of the unhoused people interviewed in this piece, and what are some of their experiences?
  3. Why has homelessness become such a problem in Austin, according to this piece?
  4. When did voters pass Proposition B, and how did it affect the homeless population of Austin?
  5. How has the city of Austin tried to address having such a large population of unhoused people?
  6. Where would measures of state preemption (the act of the state government passing new laws that negate rules set up by the local government) have kicked in, even if Austin had not voted to re-criminalize public tent camps?

Focus Questions

  • One advocate interviewed here says that criminalizing public camping helps push Austin’s homeless population towards services that can help them. Do you believe this is true?
  • What are some other ways unhoused people could be put in touch with available services?

Media literacy: When you see someone without a home in the news, how are they usually portrayed? How often have you seen people experiencing homelessness interviewed for any length of time on the news?

For More

  • How should the criminal justice system help people who have served time in jail or prison avoid homelessness once released? Discuss the cycle of crime and homelessness in this lesson plan.
  • For more on the difficulties of re-establishing a life after jail or prison, see NewsHour’s “Searching for Justice” Series. Searching for Justice explores criminal justice reforms unfolding across the country, as the leaders from both sides of the political aisle attempt to end mass incarceration by rethinking laws that some say have become barriers to work, housing and economic stability. Click here for more stories and the series and watch for more NewsHour EXTRA lesson content based on Searching for Justice stories.

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.