City leaders, Austin police say arrests will be ‘last resort’ as homelessness enforcement resumes

It is illegal – once again – for people experiencing homelessness to set up camps in much of the city. Sitting or lying in certain stretches of Austin and begging at night is also illegal after voters this month approved a proposal to restore criminal penalties for such activities.

While those laws are officially back on the books, the city says it doesn’t yet force anyone to break them – at least not immediately.

City officials reiterated at a press conference on Tuesday that they hoped to raise awareness in the encampments over the next two months and then resort to ticketing, or even arrests, if people continue to camp in public.

For the next 30 days, the city says, tickets will not be issued. Authorities will issue tickets and verbal warnings over the next 30-day period.

Austin Acting Police Chief Joseph Chacon today said the arrests would be “a last resort.”

“We have developed a plan that will include elements of education and awareness, as well as law enforcement, in order to responsibly manage our public spaces and meet the expectations of voters,” said Chacon.

Chacon and other city officials have described a four-step approach that is rolling out across several city departments, including Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Austin Resource Recovery, and the Office of Homelessness Strategy. of the city, among others.

In the first phase, Austin Police, along with other city departments, will begin reaching out to encampments to let them know they are breaking the ban that was reinstated as a result of Proposal B , a petition to cancel the city council. decision to revoke Austin’s 2019 camping ban.

If a camp presents an immediate danger to public health or safety, people could be called in immediately.

During the second 30-day phase, which runs from June 14 to July 10, APD will begin issuing verbal warnings and citations.

After that, people who do not comply could be cited or arrested. Camps could also be cleared, but only after 72 hours’ notice posted in the camps.

The Downtown Austin Community Court will handle cases resulting from subpoenas and arrests, and the diversion court hopes to offer alternatives to the jail term, including case management and housing support services.

Chacon said ODA will initially focus on camps at risk of flooding or forest fires, as well as camps in which drug-related activity or violence has been reported. .

The city will rely on the Homeless Street Team to reach camps throughout the process. HOST was created in 2017 to reduce arrests and help connect homeless Austinites to medical resources and housing. The team is a partnership with APD, Austin-Travis County EMS, Integral Care, and the Downtown Austin Community Court Case Managers.

City Manager Spencer Cronk stressed that the enforcement strategy also aims to connect people with housing resources. City council approved a plan last week to identify city-owned land that could accommodate temporary settlements, and Cronk is expected to have an initial report on that plan this week.

“We are all doing everything we can to make sure this is implemented in a safe and humane manner,” he said. “We are working to identify where people can go.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin MonitorKUT’s reporting partnership.

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