AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department and Austin-Travis County EMS met with public safety commissioners on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the implementation and enforcement of Proposition B, the homeless camping ban.
APD Lieutenant Lee Davis, who oversees homeless community outreach, shared some data points: Since Prop B passed, there have been 114 people who have been connected to services during the “education and outreach” phase. As of July 1, 382 warnings have been delivered to those experiencing homelessness and there has been a 21% reduction of tents on city streets.
The big question that remains, Lt. Davis said, is where officers will direct people when citations are issued beginning July 11, the day Phase 3 is scheduled to begin.
“If we are going to ask folks to leave, we ought to have a place to take them,” Lt. Davis said.
Davis spoke to the complexity of establishing and enforcing a coordinated and consistent procedure that yields progress and also treats people humanely. He said APD’s emphasis will continue to be on connecting people to services and resources. He also asked for patience and help from the community during the process.
“APD cannot be the tip of the spear, but rather a link in the chain. And so we are going to be a wheel within a wheel. And our goal is to bring in as many folks who want to be a part of this as possible,” Lt. Davis said.
Bill Brice, the Vice President of the Downtown Austin Alliance, was also invited to speak at the public safety commission meeting. The DAA did not have a direct role in implementing Prop B, but has paid close attention to daily operations on behalf of its clients who live and work downtown.
Brice said the DAA has begun sending ambassadors out on the streets once a month to count the amount of unsheltered homeless people living within the “public improvement district,” which encompasses most of the downtown sector. As of June 17, Brice said there were 808 unsheltered homeless individuals living on the street, in cars or in tents.
Brice expressed disappointment at the slow progress, which he says is driving people away from visiting Austin.
“The reinstatement of the aggressive solicitation laws also went into effect as did the ordinance against sitting and lying in the public rights of way, we see little enforcement of those ordinances happening right now,” Brice said. “These are significant problems that are turning away visitors, that are concerning tenants, residents, people that are occupying office space and other buildings downtown.”
Brice echoed Lt. Davis’ sentiment, saying the community needs to come to an agreement of finding a suitable place to send people once the next phase of the ordinance goes into effect.
Phase 3 of the ordinance begins July 11 and continues until Aug. 7. Austin Police have the power to issue citations to anyone not following the law. A 72-hour notice will be issued before an encampment clean up begins. During clean up, anyone still on the premises may be cited or arrested.
“If we don’t want people living unsheltered under bridges, in parks, in woods, greenspaces, high fire dangers, flood risk areas, then we have to say yes to have appropriate facilities for them to be,” Brice said.
APD is still working on a diversionary program that will connect people to services before an arrest or citation occurs to keep from taking them to community court or jail.