Many in Austin’s homeless community dreading next phase of camping ban

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — People experiencing homelessness in the City of Austin are facing a Sunday deadline — but many say they don’t know where to go. Austin police officers are set to begin issuing citations for camping in public places as the next phase of the city’s enforcement of the public camping ban starts this weekend.

Crystal Davis, who has been homeless for roughly 10 years says she and her community in South Austin are worried about the shift.

“I just want to cry about it, because this is my home,” Davis said. “They’re telling us if you don’t leave then you’re going to get arrested, if you don’t leave then you’re going to jail. It’s not right.”

Crystal Davis outside her home in South Austin

Tents still line streets and areas beneath bridges in Austin. The Salvation Army told KXAN most of their shelters are nearly at capacity.

Here were the latest numbers from them in terms of shelter capacity.

  • Austin Shelter for Women and Children: Has 81 beds for 23 families and six single women. It’s 100% full.
  • Downtown Social Service Center: Has 100 beds at this time for 50 men and 50 women. It’s 100% full.The Salvation Army expects to increase this center’s capacity to 130-150 in August if there are no additional outbreaks of COVID-19.
  • Rathgeber Center: Has 138 beds right now for 41 families with children. Not 100% full yet, and has room for four more families.The Salvation Army expects to move up to 212 beds (full capacity) next fall.

Trying to find solutions

“You can fine them all you want, they don’t have the money to pay for it,” said David Riordan, who himself was homeless at one point in his life and now supports people experiencing homelessness. “The police department is making an effort to reduce the harm to the homeless with the harm reduction committee, but we need answers and we need them quickly.”

Riordan is a proponent of Prop B, and getting people off the streets, but says the city is jumping ahead of themselves. He says people can’t get off the streets if they have nowhere to go.

David Riordan (Left) Founder of Baker & Bread Ministries

“They’ve made the move to a patch of woods somewhere that they hope is out of sight,” said Riordan.

Riordan thinks the answer is regular people making connections with those experiencing homelessness.

“We may have some government action that we can take,” he said. “We may open up some more camps, but in the end, if we’re going to find an answer to homelessness it’s going to be what I’m doing.”

Riordan has recently taken people into his own home so they don’t get cited under the new camping ban rules.

He also works with an organization that has spent the last few weeks trying to educated people about next steps, and Prop B’s deadlines.

“These last three weeks have been traumatic for the homeless,” said Riordan. “They know that Prop B passed, and they know their time of having some stability is disappearing.”

People in this South Austin homeless camp say they’re trying to get off the streets but haven’t had luck. Davis says she’s in contact with several outreach organizations and is still waiting to hear back.

“There’s a lot of means of things to sign up for — it’s just the waiting list,” she said.

The Austin Police Department has previously said an arrest won’t lead to jail time in many cases but will give them more teeth to provide resources. The department told us they’ve set up a diversionary program with emphasis on connecting people to services.

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