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No arrests made in enforcement of homeless camping ban in Austin, report says

The number of arrests could change soon, according to a report from the Austin American-Statesman.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Police Department (APD) has still made no arrests in the enforcement of the city’s homeless camping ban. However, according to a report from the Austin American-Statesman, that may not be the case for long.

The report says records from the city show no one has been arrested and booked into jail for sleeping in a prohibited area or for violating one of two related prohibitions.

The City of Austin entered Phase 4 of its camping ban enforcement in August. Under Phase 4, APD can arrest individuals in violation of the camping ordinance if they do not leave after receiving a citation.

The citation is for a Class C misdemeanor. According to the Statesman’s report, Travis County criminal court judges have not been issuing arrest warrants for people who miss their court dates for low-level misdemeanor offenses, including the Class C misdemeanor associated with the camping ban, due to COVID-19.

There are 19 cases involving “homelessness-related offenses” in which a person who received a citation did not show up for their court appearance, according to the Statesman. Of those, 15 are eligible for arrest under “non-pandemic circumstances."

Now, judges are trying to decide when to resume this practice.

“I couldn’t give you an exact date,” Municipal Court Judge Michael Coffey told the Statesman. “But it’s not likely before the end of the year.”

Coffey presides over the Downtown Austin Community Court, where individuals experiencing homelessness arrested in violation of the ordinance are supposed to be processed. The court has had no scheduled court appearances during the pandemic, so people who received citations can resolve their case but don’t have to.

Read the Statesman’s full report here.

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