Homeless camp "no trespassing" law gaining no traction

A hearing before the State Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday was focused mainly on traffic fatalities.

"One person is killed every 2 hours and 26 minutes on Texas roadways,” said Michael Chacon TX DOT’s Director of Traffic Safety.

The committee also heard from Robert Wunderlich with the Texas A&M transportation institute. He said the number of pedestrian fatalities in Texas has increased by 18% over the past ten years.

Committee member Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) El Paso asked what accounted for the increase in deaths."Well I think in part it's related to the fact that Texas is incredibly urban,” said Wunderlich.


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Several pedestrian fatalities in Austin last year occurred on I-35. Some involved members of the transient and homeless community.

Researchers at the Institute have not looked into how homeless camps factored into the data, but Wunderlich said knowing could be useful.

"If they do concentrate themselves, it also gives us an opportunity, not just a problem, because if they are concentrated, maybe we can do things, take certain measures, target the outreach and the behavioral types of changes, as well as the engineering and enforcement. things that might start changing the behavior if people are concentrated,” said Wunderlich.

Tents and living areas started setting up last year on the right of ways in Austin after the city council removed a ban on camping. This month two separate fires broke out in the same camp, located under a bridge on Hwy 183. The site was cleaned out but there is no state law preventing people from moving back in.

RELATED: State officials clean up area of recent homeless camp fires

On social media Governor Greg Abbott indicated he intends to push legislation to give TXDOT authority to enforce trespassing laws.

However, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Nichols (R) Jacksonville said he has not been directed to put the issue on any agenda. "I have not been in any discussions, nor have I heard any of the other members having those conversations, it doesn't seem to be a statewide issue, it seems to be more localized in certain areas of the state,” said Sen. Nichols.

If legislation is filed to make camp cleanups more permanent it will prompt a larger debate according to State Senator Carol Alvarado (D) Houston. "Coming in and cleaning up and removing people that’s one piece of it, but the bigger piece is having an alternative an option for people to go to, so that the homeless community can get the services they need, whether its mental health, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, help finding a job, or finding their family or maybe secure a home,” said Sen. Alvarado.

There is a way to avoid legislative action. City Councils could pass their own right of way - no trespassing ordinance.

The Majority of Austin's council and mayor have indicated the laws currently on the books are enough to address the problem.