Many arrests of homeless people are due to them being homeless, local judge says


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Municipal Judge Tanisa Jeffers sees dozens of people arrested every day. Since the push by city leaders to decriminalize the homeless population, the judge says it’s a good thing Austin police are not ticketing homeless people as often.

“Absolutely, it’s a good thing. We should not be criminalizing a societal problem when we are trying to address the homeless population and the homeless issue here in Travis County,” she says. “What we see in the homeless population are crimes they are frequently arrested for as a result of their housing status — mainly Class C misdemeanor offenses.”

Jeffers, who is currently running for County Court at Law 4, says while Austin police are issuing fewer citations for those misdemeanors, such as panhandling and lying in public spaces, she is noticing an increase of resources available to the homeless — like the Sobering Center or more of a community wide effort to help.

MORE: Is Austin’s homeless problem really that bad?

“I believe on the front end it’s much better for us to provide some services to them to keep them out of the criminal justice system,” says Jeffers.

In return she says, that puts less strain on taxpayers.

“It is estimated that booking fees alone run about $200, just for law enforcement to book someone in. That doesn’t include housing and feeding inmates daily in our Travis County system.”

Jeffers say the real solution relies on finding more housing options for the homeless.

In a November 2017 audit, the City of Austin found that certain ordinances penalizing panhanling, camping and sitting/lying actually created barriers to people getting out of homelessness.

According to the audit, citations often led to warrants and/or arrests, which led to even more difficulty securing housing or jobs.

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