Homeless camping in public areas is illegal in Texas, City of Amarillo says this doesn’t change anything

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - As of today, a new law requires cities to enforce a ban on camping in public spaces.

The new law requires cities to enforce either the ban on camping set forward by the state or a local ban.

“It’s the same thing that we’ve done before,” said Jason Riddlespurger, director of community development at The City of Amarillo. “The City of Amarillo has had an ordinance that you can’t camp on public places from midnight until 5:00 a.m.”

Riddlespurger said the goal is to connect the homeless with resources and not putting people in jail.

“We locate our chronically homeless folks in the streets through our outreach program so we got employees, who are out there scattering the streets,” said Riddlespurger. “Getting to know our homeless population, what their struggles are and then if they’re appropriate for our program, we’ll get them into housing.”

The law said anyone camping illegally in public, could be charged with a misdemeanor and be fined up to $500.

So far this year, the Amarillo Police Department (APD) has only filed one report for illegal camping.

“We do have a lot of resources here so; I think that’s one of the reasons why we don’t see a huge problem,” said Jeb Hilton public information officer at APD.

The law also requires officers to make efforts to connect the homeless with resources before or at the moment of the citation.

“Our policy has always been to give warnings,” said Hilton.

“While nonprofits like Faith City Mission say they are not worried by the law. Others like the Guyon Saunders Resource Center, a low-barrier day shelter say, they are concerned about their clients because “there is not a low barrier night time shelter in the area.” said Tracy Sommers, executive director at Guyon Saunders Resource Center. “We encourage our clients to enter the programs that both The Salvation Army and Faith City Mission.”

Amarillo Housing First says criminalizing homelessness is not the answer.

“Currently APD is using our local ordinances as tools to engage with unsheltered homeless and do searches and seizures of property, along with intimidating them to “move along”. The engagement start with a reference to the camping ban, and then, if the person is ticketed or arrested, it is for a different offense (public intoxication, paraphernalia, possession, outstanding warrants, etc.), or the officers succeed in getting to person to move along, driving them further and further into places that are more difficult to find/see and do outreach for the groups who do advocacy work. An arrest ticket for the camping ordinances only happens if there is nothing else for which to arrest a person, and they are refusing to move along. So what they have been doing with our local ordinances is not really enforcement, it is manipulation. The state law requires enforcement.”

Virginia Williams Trice, Board President of Amarillo Housing First

Cities are not allow to adopt any policy that violates the camping ban, and if an entity does it will not receive state funds.

“People that can’t or don’t want to stay in an indoor shelter that we have now, maybe we can come up with a solution, but it’s going to be something that’s going to take some time,” said Riddlespurger.

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