As Austin leaders work to clear the streets, many homeless shelters still aren’t fully open

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city leaders revealed more details Monday about what will happen to people who are ticketed for violating the camping ban. But it’s still unclear where many of these people will move to.

Sanctioned camps are still under discussion, with the city manager telling downtown business owners and stakeholders that costs could get in the way of equally distributing designated encampments in all council districts.

KXAN found out that many shelters still aren’t fully open.

“The only people that are confused are the homeless,” says Trisha English, who is experiencing homelessness.

English has been patrolling the downtown homeless community at Austin City Hall for days.

“To make sure everybody’s okay,” she explains.

She says she and others feel lost in the shuffle, as city leaders figure out where unhoused people will go once the authorities start ticketing those who break the camping ban.

More details came during a forum hosted by the Downtown Austin Alliance on Monday.

City Manager Spencer Cronk, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon and Municipal Court Administrator Peter Valdez spoke at the virtual event.

Chacon said citations will be shuffled to the Downtown Austin Community Court.

From there, Valdez said an assistant city attorney will screen cases to figure out if they get connected to services at the community court or go to a municipal court.

“The clinicians only carry a 16-person caseload so that they are able to really intensively work with these individuals until we get them into housing,” Valdez said, adding that he expects a large number of those cases to fall to them.

Right now, they have 20 case workers that can connect people to services like mental health or substance abuse help.

Valdez says they’ll be keeping an eye on the numbers over the next few months and request more resources if it’s necessary.

Typically, he said his court only works with the downtown area, the West Campus area near the University of Texas and a small part of east Austin.

If someone experiencing homelessness fails to appear in court, Valdez said a warrant will be issued.

“That being said, we see this as an opportunity… for us to re-engage the individual and motivate them,” he said.

At the same time, Chacon says people will be moved to city-sanctioned camp sites or directed to shelters. But Austin’s largest shelter provider is still operating at half capacity — 200 fewer beds.

“We would love to be able to open our doors to 100% capacity but we’re just not at that point, yet,” said Jason Whaley, a Salvation Army Austin spokesperson.

He said they’re working on a partnership with Walgreens to increase vaccine access to their clients to determine how quickly and how much they can ramp up.

“We’re hoping that the more people that get vaccinated, the greater our ability will be to increase our capacity,” Whaley said.

When asked if that’ll happen before the city starts ticketing on June 13, Whaley said he wasn’t sure but hoped so.

“Our leadership team is constantly monitoring events here in Austin, so there’ll be some meetings taking place and hopefully we’ll be able to do that,” he said.

The city says police can start ticketing those who violate the camping ban on June 13. Officers can make arrests beginning July 11.

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