Downtown Austin Community Court aims to help homeless with support, not jail time

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin sees a visible rise in the number of homeless people downtown, there’s a group quietly working behind the scenes to help keep them out of trouble.

The Downtown Austin Community Court focuses on intense support, rather than fines and jail time.

And the effort may be paying off.

After nearly nine years on Austin streets, Teresa Blackman is hoping to steer her life in a new direction.

“I had my own place at one point,” says Blackman. “Then I had to leave because I couldn’t afford rent. And it’s just…it’s been a struggle.”

Her case is among the 122 the Downtown Austin Community Court is currently working on. The organization aims to dramatically reduce the number of repeat offenses by directing people living on the streets toward resources and away from the criminal justice system.

The court analyzed a group of 59 people experiencing homelessness who came into the program last year. It found the number of citations they received plummeted, dropping from a collective 1,556 before entering the program, to just seven afterwards.

Jennifer Sowinski oversees the case managers and says the program offers a whole host of services, ranging from documents like birth certificates to the keys to a new home.

“Our goal is to engage a client, help stabilize that client, with the goal always of housing that client,” says Sowinski.

The court may very well give those experiencing homelessness a roof over their heads, rather than risk another night on the streets.

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