Teen charged with harboring runaway girl at state-owned homeless camp in Austin

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Department of Public Safety troopers arrested a 17-year-old who is accused of harboring a 14-year-old girl inside Camp Esperanza this week. The community is located on state-owned land in southeast Austin and houses about 150 people experiencing homelessness.

According to an arrest affidavit, the teens were spotted by staff members of The Other Ones Foundation, which provides services to the residents there. We are not naming the teens, because they are minors.

“Our staff had heard some individuals yelling and didn’t know what was going on,” said Liz Baker, chief strategy officer for the nonprofit. “So they contacted DPS at that time.”

Baker added staff believed the teens hadn’t been there longer than 12-20 hours.

According to the state trooper’s report, the 14-year old told authorities she’d run away from home and had been with the 17-year old suspect since that time. She’d been reported missing on May 2, according to the report.

Troopers said the teens told them they came to Camp Esperanza, because they were hiding from individuals “looking for them as a result of a drug/illicit narcotics.” The report specifically mentions heroin.

Texas DPS told KXAN it provides security 24/7 at the site but declined to discuss specifics related to security measures. A department spokesperson said there has been no change to the level of security DPS provides since Gov. Greg Abbott designated the land in 2019.

However, there will be security-related changes to the site soon. Baker said beginning in August, the state’s role at the camp will be phased out, and The Other Ones Foundation will hire its own security. That includes a director of safety and security, a deputy director and 13 community service officers, who will all be unarmed, she said.

“Having a security team on staff will allow us to strategically place folks where they can monitor the activity that’s happening on the camp,” said Baker.

Baker said she also expects surveillance cameras to be installed at the Esperanza Community by the end of year. The work is part of an effort we’ve reported on to expand the site. It includes placing 200 “tiny homes” there.

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