City Reporting Success in Helping Homeless, Dealing with Panhandlers

US-POVERTY-HOMELESS

US-POVERTY-HOMELESS

Bum's the word at City Hall, as City officials are reporting progress in closing 'homeless encampments,' and reducing the number of annoying and dangerous panhandlers on City street corners, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Since the first of the year, Edward Gonzales of the city's Human Services department says a major effort has been underway to clear out 'encampments' where many of the city's 2743 homeless people live.

He says 677 of the homeless have mental illness issues, and 497 suffer from substance abuse.He says of the others, generally referred to as 'chronically homeless,' they have one relative simple thing in common, and the City can help.

"One of the highest barriers for homeless who you encounter in an encampment, is they just don't have any form of identification," he said.

Without a legal i.d., you can do few things in today's world, from getting a job to getting an apartment to accessing services to turn your life around.

Gonzales says clearing the 'encampments' involves reaching out to the people who live there, and then clean the area, which is usually packed with trash and discarded furniture, as well as needles used for injecting drugs.

Unlike the stereotype that the homeless sleep under bridges, Gonzales says the most common locations for 'homeless encampments' is behind malls and large shopping areas.

He says that's because many of the shopping areas include unlocked boxes where people can donate clothing and other items.

"As those local businesses are receiving donations, they are receiving them after hours, and the homeless are dumpster diving and stealing those items and taking them back to those encampments."

He says major homeless encampments have sprung up near the Walmart at Dezavala and I-10, behind Ingram Park Mall, behind the malls at Marbach and Loop 410, and near the commercial area at Brooks.

"We have seen a 70% reduction in homelessness in those areas since we started," he said.

As far as discouraging panhandling, a person can't be arrested simply for begging on the street corner, it is considered a violation of free speech rights.

But police say TxDOT has placed 'no trespassing' signs on highway exit ramps and access roads, allowing police to arrest panhandlers for trespassing.  In addition, downtown businesses have granted police the right to stop panhandlers near their stores even if they don't specifically call the police, which has enabled officers to reduce panhandling downtown.

In the past year, trespassing arrests are up 28% citywide, and reports of panhandling are down 24%.

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