Advocacy group to examine ‘criminalization of homelessness’

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – As House the Homeless handed out thermal underwear and prepared people without a home for the winter at its annual party Friday, the organization was also surveying homeless individuals about their interactions with police.

“There has been a push by the business community across America to get the homeless away from their patrons on Saturday night who are trying to relax and whatnot,” said president and founder of House the Homeless Richard Troxell. “So [cities] have passed these laws: no sitting, no lying, no loitering, those types of things.”

Troxell points to the Austin rules, such as the prohibition of sitting or lying in public right-of-way. He says tickets for such offenses make it harder for people who are homeless to find homes.

“If you’re an employer and you’ve got to decide who to employ and you’ve got somebody with no tickets here and somebody with 10 tickets that are criminal in nature, you’re going take the person without the tickets,” said Troxell. “It becomes a barrier for you to escape homelessness, even though you’re making every effort.”

Troxell would like to see efforts such as an increased number of benches in the city, rather than handing out citations.

“I don’t usually issue citations [to homeless individuals],” said Senior APD Officer Shelly Borton.

Borton says she will make people aware of a possible violation, like having an open container, but then start asking about possible underlying issues. Borton works on the Homelessness Outreach Team (HOST), which is made up of two police officers, behavioral health specialists, a paramedic and a social worker. The program began in June and is scheduled to continue through October of 2017, Borton said.

For Judy Martin, being on the streets for 12 years meant finding shelter under cardboard boxes, but this year is different.

“It’s a blessing, it really is a blessing,” said Martin who now has a home after interacting with the HOST team. “I got a little apartment up on north Lamar and it’s the first time I’ve lived alone since I was 19.”

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