A standoff between Texas Governor Gregg Abbott and the City of Austin over the state capital’s liberal homelessness laws has led to a debate over the criminalization of people without a roof over their heads.
Although it’s not necessarily a crime to be homeless in Texas many cities and counties make it an offense to panhandle, loiter or sleep on the streets.
Austin is something of an exception. Abbott recently presented Austin Mayor Steve Adler with an ultimatum – improve the city’s homelessness crisis by Nov. 1 or the state steps in, the Texas Tribune reported.
Abbott’s office complained of reports of “violence, used needles, and feces littering the streets of Austin and endangering Texas residents.”
Some business owners in the city claim city ordinances intended to avoid criminalizing homelessness are endangering public safety.
The new laws legalize sitting and camping in public as long as it does not endanger the health or safety of the homeless person or others.
Austin’s decriminalization of homelessness is in contrast to many other cities and counties which have strict laws to punish homelessness.
The Texas Homeless Network points out vagrancy is criminalized in much of the Texas Balance of State, a continuum of care that covers 215 counties, or about 60 percent of Texas’ population.
The Homeless Network notes that since 2011, many Texas counties have criminalized sitting or lying down in public, loitering in the streets, panhandling, and even sleeping in a car.
Six cities ban panhandling at intersections. Waxahachie, Boerne, and Pleasanton even require permits to solicit donations from passersby.
Fort Worth recently passed a law requiring written permission to camp on private property. The law is intended to clampdown on homeless camps in the city.
The ordinance requires homeless people to either have written permission from a property owner to camp on their property or face a $500 fine.
Dallas has appeared on national lists for its crackdown on homelessness. The Observer noted the city ticketed 11,000 people who slept in public between 2012 and 2015. Thousands of people who were ticketed lacked the resources to pay fines of $146.
Homeless people who are unable to pay fines may end up in jail. However, the criminalization of homelessness is a clumsy way to treat the problem. It can mire people even deeper into poverty. If you are charged with a homelessness offense, please contact our Dallas criminal defense lawyers today.