Austin police give update on camping ban enforcement

Austin police are now expected to fully enforce the ban on camping in public.

Tuesday, interim Chief Joseph Chacon provided more information about how the final phase of that enforcement effort is going. Chacon said so far police have visited 86 homeless campsites in the city. Their goal is to connect as many people living on the streets to housing as they can.

Tuesday, cleanup crews worked around the tents at West Gate Boulevard and US 290. Those who call the area under the highway home watched as workers piled items left behind inside of dumpsters ready to haul it away.

"I’ve been through a lot this year. I’ve been through an awful lot," said Sean Desilets who said he has been sleeping under the overpass since being removed from a medical facility. "I think that they should treat us like human beings and talk to us like we’re human."

The homeless community on West Gate Boulevard knows their time under the highway is limited. Police officers enforcing the Prop B camping ban, which was recently voted into law, will soon ask them to leave.

"We’re making it out to about 10 to 20 individual sites per week," said Chacon.

The final phase of Prop B enforcement, which includes arrests if a person still refuses to leave after being cited, started Sunday. As of last week, officers had given out 572 warnings and 24 citations.

"We have not had to make any custody arrests yet," Chacon said.

About 610 people contacted by law enforcement agreed to be surveyed, according to the chief. Just under half completed housing assessments or were connected with organizations or veterans affairs. Those with nowhere to turn were told about shelters or temporary housing options.

"We also have our two designated places in the city where people are allowed to camp, McKinney Falls State Park as well as Emma Long Park, and that information is passed along as well," said Chacon.

The police chief said officers will attempt to make necessary arrests during the hours Downtown Austin Community Court is open. That way those taken into custody will go straight to court to meet with a judge and get connected to resources, instead of being put in jail.

Austin’s HEAL initiative has simultaneously helped to identify members of the homeless community to find them temporary or long-term housing.

The city’s homeless strategy officer said it’s obvious that encampments are moving around more since Prop B enforcement started, but it’s not yet clear if people are moving to specific areas, like parks.

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