El Paso City Council votes for open-container ban within 1,000 feet of homeless shelters citywide

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Open containers are prohibited from being 1,000 feet near a homeless shelter on public property due to a City Council vote.

Nearly all members of the eight-member council voted in favor of expanding a city ordinance that prohibits individuals from having open containers near shelters. The law applied to shelters Downtown, now it applies to all of the homeless shelters in the city. 

District 8 city representative Cissy Lizarraga called on her colleagues to pass the change during Tuesday’s meeting. All except District 2 city representative Alexsandra Annello voted in favor of the proposal. 

“I do want to emphasize that this is just the first step and only one tool in what needs to be a more complete toolbelt. We need to focus on and our funding for critical programs,” Lizarraga said.  

Though the law takes effect immediately, police will need training before it can be adequately enforced. The decision came after residents contacted Lizarraga and other representatives to pass the change out of growing concern of homeless individuals drinking near neighborhoods. 

A violation of the ordinance change is a Class C misdemeanor and a $500 fine. 

Dora Villanueva, of the Val Verde Neighborhood Association and Ricardo Flores called in to voice their support for the change. They said calling the police would generally not provide a solution because there was not a law against homeless individuals drinking near public spaces.

Residents say they were concerned about individuals staying near the Hilos de Plata Senior Center on Delta Drive, and the nearby sports center which was converted into an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council’s actions on Tuesday changed a current ordinance that applies within a district in Downtown El Paso. The original rules stated individuals could not have open containers around homeless shelters with the boundaries of the central business district in Downtown. 

That boundary includes areas near the Paso del Norte Bridge to communities just outside of Downtown along Interstate 10. 

Camille Castillo, the project director at the El Paso Coalition for the Homeless said staff with shelters met with police in July to discuss the changes. Much of the issue was 

“But when it’s impacting a neighborhood, the outcry from the neighborhood that’s being affected, we need to listen and we need to work together,” Castillo said.

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