AUSTIN, Texas — The Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC) is doing things differently. In order to help serve the homeless population in Austin, it works to be more of a social service organization than a court of law.
"Our focus here is connecting people to stability and, eventually, housing. And we want to do more of that. As much more as we can and help as many people as we can," said Peter Valdez, the director of the DACC.
Valdez said if an individual comes in with a ticket, instead of making them pay a fine, they have alternative options.
"So, our approach is non-punitive," Valdez said. "We offer everybody that comes through our court process the ability to have that charge dismissed if they agree to doing things like case management and community service."
Valdez said that approach has led to success inside and outside the courtroom, including decreasing strain on the criminal justice system.
"Individuals that are engaged in case management, based on our data, decrease the level of engagement they have with the criminal justice system altogether," Valdez said. "So, if we’re supporting them with our wraparound services, that seems to help them stay out of the criminal justice system."
Valdez said the numbers show the court's success. In 2018, DACC reported of 59 individuals served, there were 1,556 citations combined. It reported once the same group of 59 went into the DACC's case management services, the total number of citations dropped to seven.
In addition, between January 2016 and November 2019, the DACC connected 166 people who are homeless to housing.
Here's a year-by-year breakdown of the number of people DACC helped connect to housing each year:
- 2016 = 33
- 2017 = 47
- 2018 = 47
- January 2019 through Nov. 30, 2019 = 39
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