Monday, September 28, 2020

Debtors Prison Blues: Homeless rack up tens of thousands of tickets and warrants that everyone knows they can't pay

In a fine story last month on the history of homelessness policy in Texas, the Texas Observer's Gus Bova included some data on local, Class C homeless citations from Texas big cities that I wanted to record for future use. For starters, here in the state capital:

Records obtained by the Observer show that between January 2000 and May 2020, nearly 53,000 citations were issued under [Austin's] ordinances—75 percent of which turned into warrants. The municipal court would not provide data for years prior to 2000. The records show a spike between 2013 and 2015, a period accounting for some 24,000 citations. In summer 2018, when the city council first suggested it would repeal the rules, enforcement fell sharply. And since last June, when the ordinances were revised, tickets have slowed to a trickle: Only 125 have been issued through May, with 34 percent becoming warrants.

 In Dallas:

Records obtained by the Observer show that Dallas, which maintains a ban on sleeping in public, has issued more than 38,000 sleeping citations since 1998, with more than half resulting in warrants. Ticketing has continued through the pandemic. Dallas also restricts panhandling and, in 2016, re-created 1994 by clearing out a massive encampment under I-45.

And in Houston:

Houston, meanwhile, bans sitting or lying down during the day in designated areas, which the city has been expanding from downtown to more neighborhoods for 18 years. Since 2007, the Bayou City has issued nearly 25,000 citations for sitting and lying—on top of enforcing bans on camping, panhandling, and restrictions on sharing food with the homeless. San Antonio also maintains a set of anti-homeless laws, including a ban on “soliciting from occupants of vehicles” that’s led to 35,000 citations and 11,000 warrants since 2001.

Regular readers may recall that your correspondent commissioned some theme music, titled, "Debtors Prison Blues," for a campaign on Class C warrants for which funding didn't pan out. These data bring that audio to mind:

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