Response to inquiries on Council actions on homelessness

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Steve Adler
Posts: 249
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2015 3:12 pm

Response to inquiries on Council actions on homelessness

Post by Steve Adler » Tue Jul 02, 2019 8:41 pm

I know that each of us is getting many constituent inquiries about what the Council recently did and anticipates to shortly do with respect to homelessness. Just FYI, I wanted to share what my office is sending in response to such inquiries.

http://assets.austintexas.gov/austincou ... 202810.pdf

Thank you for reaching out to Mayor Adler’s office regarding homelessness in Austin. Finding and executing solutions for Austin’s homelessness challenge is a top priority for Austin and this office. We are tapping every available resource and applying national best practices to deal with the challenge. We are concerned about both those in need and our public spaces. We’re mindful of the experiences in other cities that we want to avoid and we are trying to learn and act in new and better ways.

City Council took action on June 20th on the following:

1. Big Picture -- Council asked the City Manager to come back to the Council and the community next month with better options than exist now to deal the challenges facing us. This should include identifying places and times where camping both would and would not be allowed city-wide, providing facilities and services in such camping areas to triage people’s needs and to move them into shelters, providing safer parking areas for families that are currently sleeping in their cars in dangerous places at the end of dead-end streets, and moving toward more support and services associated with housing (shelters and permanent) so the maximum number of people can return to society and productive lives.

2. Shelter -- Council authorized the purchase of a building on West Ben White Boulevard to provide shelter and support services to those experiencing homelessness. Conditions around future shelters must be very different from what is currently experienced at the ARCH downtown. We’ll look at measures such as not providing drop-in services, but rather requiring residents to be referred by law enforcement or service providers, not allowing camping, sitting or lying outside, and only providing day services to people actually residing at such shelters. Further measures were addressed, such as making sure that any temporary shelter areas do not remain for more than a year. Importantly, sheltering needs to be just a part of a larger continuum of care that is designed to move people out of shelters and into permanent homes.

3. Camping Ordinance – The Council maintained the police ability to arrest and to ticket anyone who is camping and that presents a public safety risk or a public health hazard, consistent with pre-existing local and state laws. The new ordinance does not, however, allow police to put someone in jail (arrest or ticket) who may be camping but is not, in the police officer’s judgment, presenting such a risk or hazard. There is a trend among courts to stop cities from being able to tell people they cannot camp in a certain place if the government cannot answer as to where they can camp instead. For too long, we’ve spent $millions relying on ordinances that enable us to move people experiencing homelessness but which only move them to somewhere else, so that we can spend $millions more moving them from there to yet another somewhere else, once again, in an ineffective, costly and endless circle. We must do more than just move people around; we must do better and find people homes.

4. Obstruction Ordinance, formerly the Sit/Lie Ordinance – The Council maintained the police ability to arrest and to ticket anyone who is sitting or lying and impedes or blocks access in a way that presents a public safety risk or a public health hazard, consistent with pre-existing local and state laws. The new ordinance does not, however, allow police to put someone in jail (arrest or ticket) who may be sitting or lying but is not, in the police officer’s judgment, presenting such a risk or hazard.

5. Aggressive Confrontation, formerly the Solicitation Ordinance – commonly known as panhandling. The Council maintained the police ability to arrest and to ticket anyone who aggressively confronts, approaches or follows someone creating a threat, consistent with pre-existing local and state laws. This is true regardless of what the approaching person says, whether it’s asking for money or a date, or advocating a political or social issue. This is consistent with the trend among courts to find unconstitutional ordinances that focus on certain kinds of speech, including asks for money. Our new ordinance focuses instead, then, on aggressive and threatening conduct. The new ordinance does not allow police to put someone in jail (arrest or ticket) who is not engaging in threatening or aggressive conduct when approaching another or who is approaching another in any particular, formerly protected place.

The status quo is not working as the homelessness challenge is increasing. The old ordinances are not getting to where we want to be. We’ve set this challenge as our greatest priority and we’ve done a lot, but we now can see we need to do so much more.

The answer is to provide an effective and accessible continuum of facilities, services and homes. A strong community system to end people’s homelessness includes coordinated outreach, shelter, housing, support services, connections to positive communities, and access to mental and physical healthcare, jobs and substance use treatment.

We won’t be successful until we provide the full range needed, but we cannot wait until all the pieces are in place for us to move forward. We must start taking specific and direct action to deal with our concern for those experiencing homelessness and our concern for our public spaces.

We must focus providing temporary shelter, permanent supportive housing, and transition housing to serve the over 1,000 people who do not have a place to stay at night.

We are grateful for you writing to us and caring for our community. To hear more from Mayor Adler on how “The Status Quo is Killing Us,” go here: https://video.snapstream.net/Play/4VDrV ... 3gfxvx5xhw.

I’ve made note of your email and will relay your message to Mayor Adler.
Mayor