City cleans up large South Austin homeless encampment

Justin Cummings is an Austin police officer, assigned to enforce the camping ban. The City of Austin provided video of him and his co-workers visiting with some of the homeless and informing them of Proposition B.

"We started on the hike and bike trail around North Pleasant Valley and made our way to around City Hall. During this phase we are putting out outreach and explaining what's going on. We didn't write citations today but we did write warnings, making sure people know what's going on," he said.

Voters approved Prop B in May, which reinstates the citywide camping ban. Enforcement is now in phase three, where officers can write tickets, and arrest if a person will not leave a place deemed dangerous. Cummings said his primary focus has been education, not citations.

"We don't want to write citations, we don't want to take people to jail," he said.

The city's homeless strategy officer says compliance has been going well overall. "No citations had been issued, just verbal and written warnings," said Dianna Grey.

There were dozens of people camping at Ben White and Menchaca Road. Wednesday afternoon, officers were wrapping up the cleanup of the site, which was infested with rats. "As of today we have moved 49 people from that site to the Southbridge shelter," said Grey.

The Southbridge shelter is the old Rodeway Inn the city purchased for this purpose. Grey said the Ben White encampment is just one of the four major sites they will clean up as part of the city's H.E.A.L. initiative.

"We can resolve some of the issues around unsheltered homelessness, not just by having people move from place to place, but connecting them to shelter, and getting them on a concrete path to housing," said Grey.

Matt Machowiak with Save Austin Now believes the process isn’t moving fast enough. "The council and mayor took a six week paid vacation with no plan in place. Almost 91,000 people voted to reinstate the camping ban on May 1, we are now 10 weeks past that point, the city has done almost nothing," said Machowiak.

Phase four of enforcement begins Aug. 8.

Since May 11, when the camping ban took effect, cops have visited more than 500 people across 70 locations in town. The city connected 122 people with social services through this process.

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