SAN ANTONIO – House Bill 1925 will ban homeless encampments across the state and require cities to get permission to allow them within city boundaries. However, city leaders and nonprofits say the bill will face some challenges from an enforcement standpoint.
Patrick Steck, the assistant director of the department of human services for the City of San Antonio, says arranging a homeless encampment is already illegal in the Alamo City.
“We’ve had this law in place since 2005. The bill also talks about doing street outreach and providing services first,” Steck said. “So, really, it does line up with what the city has both on the books and what we are doing in practice.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Steck said, social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased enforcement of the law.
The city and local organizations have a five-year strategic plan to reduce homelessness in the area. The plan includes area partnerships, creating more affordable housing and services for those with severe mental health issues.
Katie Vela, the executive director of the San Antonio Regional Alliance for the Homeless, says the process to get people to trust agencies and take the help offered takes time.
“We really want to focus on the long-term solutions, because when you clear a camp, people are just moving to another area until you have that permanent housing option,” Vela said. “We’re starting to see people that live in the camps get referred to housing through the federal COVID-19 funding. We’re referring about 50 people a week. So, we are making progress.”
House Bill 1925 also makes setting up a homeless encampment a class c misdemeanor punishable with a fine up to $500.
Cities that want to have a designated place for homeless camps will also be required to get state approval.
Nikisha Baker with SAMMinistries says criminalizing poverty and homelessness is not a great idea.
“I think it creates an additional barrier for folks who are working to get housed,” Baker said. “They often already have poor credit, if any credit, negative fines. Those kinds of things certainly don’t help that situation.”
However, the details of how cities will be enforcing these fines and how it will impact cities when the bill is signed into law has still yet to be figured out.
“We’re going to look at it very carefully with our lawyers to make sure that all our practices are aligned with new legislation. We have a few months now to do that,” Steck said.
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